What's in a name?
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:21 PM
NORTH BEND During the last few weeks, the city of
North Bend has been buzzing with talk about the name of a new
business, Bad Ass Coffee Co. The coffeehouse is located downtown at
247 E. North Bend Way, and its name has prompted both negative
and positive reactions from community members since its Jan. 6
"I think it's fine, and I hope it stays here," said customer Jim
Gee, who went to the coffeehouse last week with his son, Nick. "I
don't see anyone's reasoning behind [getting upset at] it. The
word's used a couple of times in the Bible, and I don't see why it
can't be used here." Gee and his family first learned of the company
while visiting Hawaii.
The business is a franchise based out of Salt Lake City,
Utah. There are currently 15 Bad Ass Coffee stores in the United
States, specifically in Hawaii, California, Idaho, Alaska, Utah, Florida
and one in Alberta, Canada. The North Bend franchise is the only
store in Washington.
The company's niche is it's product, Kona coffee from
Hawaii. The coffee is difficult to find and usually too expensive for
most coffeehouses to carry, priced at about $25 and up per pound.
A Kona blend is offered at less than half that amount.
North Bend Bad Ass Coffee owner Kenneth Lightweis
said he's not out to offend anyone.
"I'm sorry people don't like our name, but I'm not going
to close my shop because a few people don't like it," he said,
adding that he and his wife, Cristy, chose the business because
when doing research a year ago, they found it was one of the top 10
franchises in the country.
Bad Ass Coffee started in 1989 in Hawaii, and its
name comes from a Hawaiian legend. The legend states that natives
of Kona, Hawaii, remember the days of what they called the "bad
ass ones" hard-working donkeys that hauled Kona coffee up
and down the mountainside, bellowing as they trudged along.
The people could hear their calls echoing through the mountains.
A letter to the editor from North Bend resident Anita
Florence that ran in the Jan. 18 issue of the Valley Record
commented that the company's name is not appropriate for a small,
"I understand that people have rights," the letter stated.
"But just because they have the right to name their business
anything they choose, doesn't mean it is the right thing to do."
Officials at city hall, as well as at the King County
Sheriff's Office substation in North Bend, have received several phone
calls inquiring to whether the company's name is legal and
asking why it was allowed in North Bend.
"We've had a couple of calls," said Sgt. Grant Stewart of
the sheriff's office. "Apparently they must feel I have control over
their sign, and that, of course, isn't the case. I think that people
don't know where to start calling with their complaints. And although
it may certainly be offensive to certain people, it isn't illegal."
City employees said the name is legal because of First
Amendment rights, and although residents have complained about
the wording, there is nothing in the city's code that allows denial
on the basis of the word "ass."
Some have worried that the name negatively influences
children, but one parent said that's not an issue with his children.
"The coffee's excellent. Isn't that what it's all about, good
coffee?" asked customer Scott Haas. He explained that he and his
wife, Patricia, visit the coffeehouse even though they have
pre-teen and teen-age children.
"Our kids, when you ask them to say the name, they won't do
it, because we've told them not to," he said. "My point is that
if you've told them they can't, then they can't.
"You can't protect your kids from the world. You've got
to teach them so when they go out in it, they're well-equipped
to make the right choice," he added.
According to Bad Ass Coffee's corporate office in
Utah, a slightly negative reaction is common when a store first
"We always get a few people that don't like our name,"
said Connie Alexakos, director of franchising for Bad Ass Coffee.
"We know [the name is] a double-edged sword, but we like
our name; we don't think its offensive."
"We like it because it's catchy and its something you can
remember. Our stores are fun, the merchandise is fun. And what we
are really trying to do is bring the Aloha spirit to the mainland."
She explained that the Aloha spirit means a friendly, warm
atmosphere that the company hopes customers will experience
when they visit Bad Ass stores.
Alexakos explained that the company's logo always
features a donkey so people will understand the reference.
"We're very clear about our name. We're clear about our
story, and we have it posted everywhere, on our cups, on our
coffee bags. And whenever we put up a sign or anything, we use the
donkey. We really feel that we do everything we can to make
this something everybody will understand," she said. "If we didn't
use the donkey, we could see how people would think we're
using the name for shock value."
The company knows its boundaries, Alexakos added.
"We don't flaunt our name in places that are inappropriate
for children," she said, explaining that the company has
turned down giving away logo merchandise at a school function and
also declined to make children's clothing with the logo,
despite requests. "Coffee isn't a drink that young kids drink, so we're
not going to go and serve our coffee at an inappropriate place, not
necessarily because of the name Bad Ass, but because of the fact
that it's an adult drink."
A Bad Ass Coffee store in Boise, Idaho, that opened
last December, hasn't had many problems with its name, an
"We haven't had any negative phone calls. It's more a
visual thing. I've seen a couple of people walk by and see the
sign and look like they didn't like it, but nobody has called and
complained about it," explained Boise store manager
The name has not been a setback for sales at the Boise
store, Bentley added, and a couple of locals who were unhappy with
the name at first are now regulars they just won't say the name.
Lightweis said the notoriety his business has received
would help other North Bend merchants.
"And I think it will be good for North Bend; anything
that draws people here is good," he said. "They might go to
Scott's Dairy Freeze and get something to eat after coming here, or
they might go see a car. Anything that brings in revenue has got to
be good for the city."