'We were so surprised': Kelowna coffee shop faced with lawsuit, now rebranding

Just before Christmas, the owners of a popular coffee shop in Kelowna, Canoe Coffee Roasters, were served a letter they were not expecting.

Jen Upshaw and her husband Dave, received a cease and desist letter saying they can no longer use the name Canoe Coffee Roasters.

"We were so surprised to receive that," she said.

When they started their business five years ago, they did a trademark search and nothing came up, Upshaw said.

Submitted by Jen Upshaw

The letter came from what Upshaw describes as a "multi-billion-dollar company out of the U.S." with chains and offshoots in Canada. Due to ongoing legal issues, she declined to name which company it is.

She said one of the smaller branches of the company has a name that is related to the word "canoe."

"I guess that was too close to what we've had going on," she told Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

When Upshaw and her husband started Canoe Coffee Roasters, they served coffee out of a trailer at local farmers markets. Now, they have a café on the north side of downtown Kelowna, as well as an online store where they sell different blends of coffee with the Canoe brand name on the label, along with other merchandise.

"We wanted to [pick] a name for it that felt true to the business that we wanted to create, and so we picked something that we felt was connected to nature, and sustainable, and active and really steeped in Canadian heritage," she said.


Upshaw said despite having "amazing lawyers" who think they have a good case to fight this, they can't afford a legal battle against such a large company.

"The legal fees would be astronomical."

In the beginning, the Upshaws were given 10 days to destroy all of their branded goods and change their name. Now, they are in the midst of securing a deal to have another six months to change everything.

Submitted by Jen Upshaw

They have $20,000 worth of bags with the Canoe brand name on them, as well as sweaters, mugs and other merchandise that need to be sold or gotten rid of by the summer. They will also have to change their website logo.

"It's not going to be small to roll that out, but at least we have six months."

Outpouring of support

Since sharing the rebranding news on social media, the Upshaws have received tremendous support from the community.

"It's been awesome. We feel so fortunate in our misfortune, because this has really been a great way for us to connect with the community," said Upshaw, noting that their merchandise has been flying off the shelf.

"People have been very outraged for us, which it's always nice for people to be angry with you."

An Instagram post asking for new name suggestions led to over 2,000 entries. They have now narrowed it down to two, after having a lawyer review them.

"I think what we've really learned is that you can rally and you can get around anything," she said.

"Owning a small business is difficult, but fighting isn't always the way forward, sometimes it's just easier, and better, and nicer to just roll with the punches."