Restaurant-revamping chef Gordon Ramsay was back at Hampden’s Cafe Hon months after featuring the once maligned eatery on Kitchen Nightmares last November. The show usually portrays Ramsay coming to the aid of a restaurant with awful cooking (and a healthy dose of interpersonal drama), but at Cafe Hon the focus was primarily on healing bad blood between owner Denise Whiting and city residents after Whiting attempted to enforce a trademark on the word “hon.”
Angie Gentile, a yoga instructor and Andy Snair, a commercial artist, got married in Hampden during Honfest on Saturday. The couple tied the knot at Yoga Village in Clipper Mill and then celebrated at Grano on Chestnut Street. The couple and bridal party then made their way through the crowd to the newlywed’s house on Hickory Street, drawing attention and good wishes from the Honfest revelers.
“Hon” hullabaloo reached new heights (or depths) this week when Denise Whiting, proprietor of Cafe Hon, Hon Bar, and Hontown, and founder of Hampden’s Honfest, was granted a restraining order against a vocal and active critic of her trademark-happy behavior, 25-year-old Steven Akers. Whiting’s complaint cited Akers’ “harassing, terrorizing, unpredictable, obsessive, stalkerlike behavior,” which included shouting “No one owns Hon!” into Cafe Hon during Honfest and scribbling mildly confrontational comments on the Internet. Akers views the restraining order as unfounded, since he was “just passing out fliers.”
While Whiting’s hijacking of a classic Baltimore colloquialism is rather unneighborly, as well as unfair to other local businesses, the vitriolic protests seem a little out of place. They raise the “hon” issue to a level of seriousness that it just doesn’t deserve, and might slightly misrepresent the extent of the trademark’s meaning.
Many seemingly generic words and phrases are trademarked. Marvel Comics and competitor DC jointly own the term “superhero.” Paris Hilton owns “That’s Hot!” And Emeril Lagasse owns “Bam!” (Jackass star Bam Margera has a claim on the word sans exclamation point.) None of these trademarks (even the clearly anticompetitive trademark of “superhero”) stops anyone from using the phrase in everyday speech.
As far as the restriction Whiting’s claim places on products with the word on them, the challenge should come from local businesses whose activities have been unfairly curtailed by the trademark.
Last week, you probably know by heart, Hon controversy turned red-hot again as much despised Hon-trademark-owner Denise Whiting’s worker bees issued local Hampden merchants a long list of restricted items they may not sell at next week’s Honfest, including anything bearing the sacred Honfest logo, but also stock merchandise which connotes the iconic Hon look, like cat’s eye sunglasses and aerosol cans.
Last year, of course, locals were shocked and disgusted gangbusters to learn that Whiting not only owns the rights to everything three-letter-H-word-containing, from restaurants to napkins to underwear to feather boas, but since she founded and runs Honfest, she gets to call the stingy shots there as well. Or so she thinks.
Anyway, after Whiting issued her list of demands and restrictions–among them that merchants must not promote religious or political messages in conjunction with Honfest–locals railed again against her control-freaky ways. Some merchants promise they’ll disregard her rules. Certain vocal attorneys have suggested that Whiting’s flier, in as far as she aims to silence topical debate, violates free speech. (We still expect to see politicians aplenty handing out “Vote for Me” messaging; September is right around the corner!)
Without question, we agree with Whiting’s critics: That honey is one piece of work. But another question emerges, as we once again review the wacky Hon aesthetic to which Baltimore has hugged tightly for decades now. What is so appealing about this hackneyed persona, beehive-topped, burly, bespectacled, and beaded? Sorry to say it, but we are so over that gal, nearly as much as we’re over Ms. Whiting’s bad behavior. Really, doesn’t our bright and thriving Baltimore deserve a more stylish mascot? Any alternative ideas? Please let us know what you think, darling.