Trademark battle brewing between Florida Ave. businesses

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There's conflict brewing in Seminole Heights between two businesses that share a common name on the same street: Florida Avenue Brewing Company and Florida Avenue Eats.

The brewery has been established for years. The restaurant opened over the weekend. Florida Avenue Brewing Co., a brand of Brew Bus Brewing, sits at 4101 North Florida Avenue. At 6605 North Florida Avenue, you'll find Florida Avenue Eats.

"The Heights is about unique businesses and neighbors," said Kathy Lopez.

Though the businesses are a mile and a half apart, the names aren't unique enough, according to Brew Bus Brewing, which has its own eatery on-premise. Now, owner Anthony Derby is suing Florida Avenue Eats owner Greg Spadaccini for trademark infringement. 

Derby issued a statement, saying, "Back in February, Greg Spadaccini (owner of Spaddy’s Coffee) contacted me personally through my Facebook account inquiring about using Florida Avenue Eats as the name and branding for a new food concept he was starting with his business partner. I told him I needed to think about the issue of brand confusion and a few days later I sent him an email voicing why I thought there would be significant confusion between Florida Avenue Brewing Co. (which has an eatery on-premise) and requested they explore other options for naming or branding. He chose to ignore my valid concerns of the overwhelming similarities and potential to create confusion, and ultimately refused to engage in any form of dialog, both online and in person."

Derby continued, saying, “Once the restaurant began promoting itself, we started receiving calls from our distribution partners and customers asking if Florida Avenue Brewing Co. has any affiliation to Florida Avenue Eats. Thus, I continued to reach out to Mr. Spadaccini to find an amicable solution that did not involve the legal system. Even last night, I reached out to him to ask to sit down and chat to avoid an unnecessary legal conflict, and again received no response."

News of the lawsuit was met, by and large, with negative reaction in the community. 

"It was just such a bully move," Lopez said. "I was really surprised. It's just tone deaf."

"It's a little unfair to tell another business that they can't use a name of the street that you're on," Mike Pasley said, "especially, since one is food and the other is beer."

In a close-knit neighborhood that values its local businesses, the legal battle on Florida Avenue has left customers of both feeling torn.

"Personally, they have my favorite blueberry beer so it's kind of sad to see this," said Marissa Pandes.

"Maybe that's why people are very upset," Lopez said. "There isn't a confusion. There is not."

Documents show that Florida Avenue Brewing Co. filed for a Florida State Trademark at the end of March.

Attorney Anthony Rickman, who's not affiliated with the case, said the courts will look at things like advertisements, products, and branding.  

"Florida Avenue Brewing is a beer company," Rickman said. "And what Florida Avenue Eats is going to say is, 'We're a food company.'"

Rickman said, "When they talk about copyright infringement, they're saying that this new brand, which isn't trademarked, is using our name and they're selling a similar product, which creates an unfair confusion for our consumers to make them think they're eating our location and they're not."

Though Greg Spadaccini, who also owns Spaddy's Coffee, couldn't specifically address the lawsuit, he said, "As a business owner for almost four years, I try to do everything I can for the neighborhood. We're going to do the best we can to handle this in the best way we can, keep our heads down and keep making good food."

Spadaccini launched a fundraising page to help raise money for legal representation. 

On the page, Spadaccini wrote, "Florida Avenue is a public road, one of Tampa's longest stretching business roads, and the road we operate business on. Adding the name 'Florida Avenue' to the name of a business is not in any way unique and should not prohibit business owners like myself from operating under that naming convention." 

Spadaccini continued, "Not only are they taking legal action against my business Florida Avenue Eats, but they have decided to sue me personally. With a newborn at home and incurring the recent expenses of a new restaurant buildout, I simply do not have the funds to personally protect myself and my family legally."

As far as reaching a compromise, Derby believes it's possible.

"We continue to work toward an amicable solution and hope to meet over a beer or coffee to figure out a solution," he said.