Billy Goat Tavern Owners Taking Chip Company to Court

“No fries. Chips.”

The owners of Chicago’s iconic Billy Goat Tavern are taking a St. Louis chip company to court, claiming infringement of its trademarks, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court.

The St. Louis-based Billy Goat Chip Company started selling their potato chips in 2009, according to the suit. While the chips were originally sold only in the St. Louis metro area, the company has since expanded to more than 100 retail locations — including three in the Chicago area.

A representative for the chip company was not available for comment Wednesday night. 

The name and symbol of a goat on the Billy Goat Chip Company’s packaging has led to confusion by its customers, the Billy Goat Tavern owners claim. Customers have said that they bought Billy Goat chips, only to learn no such products from the Chicago-based company are for sale — for now at least. 

Billy Goat IP, LLC, which owns the iconic tavern under Michigan Avenue and other locations, has been branching out into retail sales this year. 

Cheezborger-branded frozen hamburger patties started selling at Jewel Osco grocery stores in April and the company added canned six-packs of its Billy Goat I.P.A beer in October. According to the suit, a line of Billy Goat Tavern and Grill-branded potato chips could also be in the works. 

In the suit, the tavern owners claim that their ability to license potato chips with their branding to third-party companies has been harmed because of a mistaken belief that the tavern’s owners are affiliated with the St. Louis chip company, or because a direct competitor with similar branding is already in the market. 

The Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago was established by William “Billy Goat” Sianis in 1934 at 1855 W. Madison St. across from the Chicago Stadium, now the United Center. 

The tavern has been a part of Chicago legend ever since Sianis was denied entry into a 1945 World Series game that pitted the Chicago Cubs against the Detroit Tigers. According to the legend, Sianis tried to bring his pet goat to the game using his second ticket only to be turned away, leading to his proclamation that “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more.” The Curse of the Billy Goat — and the Cubs’ century-long World Series drought — had begun. 

The tavern’s lore only grew when a series of Saturday Night Live skits in the late 1970s featuring John Belushi, Dan Akroyd and Bill Murray that took place at the fictional Olympia Tavern — allegedly based on the Billy Goat Tavern. The skits made the phrases “Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger,” “No Pepsi — Coke!” and of course “No fries — Cheeps,” known throughout the country. 

Despite attempts to resolve their dispute, the tavern owners say, the chip company has been unwilling to acknowledge or meet their demands. 

The suit claims the St. Louis company has infringed on the Billy Goat Tavern’s trademarks and has engaged in unfair competition, leading to continued customer confusion. 

The suit seeks to stop the chip company from using the phrase “Billy Goat” as a name or trademark in connection with food or beverage sales, as well as reimbursement of the cost of bringing the suit.

Copyright CHIST - SunTimes
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