Inside a cozy Montpelier stationer this morning, Gov. Peter Shumlin kicked off the newly minted Team Kale, a campaign to help local artist Bo Muller-Moore fight fast-food behemoth Chick-fil-A's surreal efforts to curtail his "Eat More Kale" T-shirt business.
Wielding sound bytes to rival Chick-fil-A's "Eat Mor Chikin" slogan, Shumlin said, "Don't mess with Vermont. Don't mess with kale. Chick-fil-A, get out of the way, because we're going to win this one."
Muller-Moore, who began making Eat More Kale T-shirts and stickers 11 years ago, recently received a letter from Chick-fil-A demanding that he withdraw his application for a federal trademark and turn over his website. It was the second time in six years that the company has tried to shut down his company, claiming it interferes with their "Eat More Chikin" ad campaign and confuses consumers.
Two weeks ago, Muller-Moore's lawyer, Dan Richardson of Montpelier, sent Chick-fil-A a letter refuting any confusion between Muller-Moore's business and theirs, and requested the company reconsider its position. In the meantime, the story hit the national press, Eat More Kale T-shirt orders exploded, and a petition of support gathered more than 17,000 signatures.
On Saturday, Muller-Moore received a call from the governor's office saying the state wanted to help in anyway it could. And so Team Kale was born: Via Muller-Moore's website, supporters can purchased Team Kale T-shirts and pledge financial support.
Though Richardson is working on the case pro bono, legal fees could skyrocket if the company — which did $3.5 billion in sales last year — chooses to fight. "We have to anticipate an aggressive litigation," says Richardson, who was waiting for a response from Chick-fil-A today.
In the meantime, Shumlin and a coterie of state officials urged Chick-fil-A to back off. "Don't interfere with buy local. Don't interfere with our agricultural renaissance," said Shumlin. With a touch of levity, he pointed out the absurdity of Chick-fil-A's claim that diners can confuse kale with chicken. "Kale is a vegetable. Chickens are birds. Birds create manure. Kale eats manure."
Muller-Moore, who is cranking out 13- and 14-hour days to fill the spike in orders, says it is a clear case of David vs. Goliath. "It wasn't an easy decision to fight these guys," he says. He might need all of the support he can get; in a statement issued today, Chick-fil-A says it intends to persist.
"We support the entrepreneurial spirit of small business, and, in fact, our business model is founded on providing opportunity for small business owners," it read. "Unfortunately, when protecting our trademark, the law does not allow us to differentiate between a large company or a small enterprise."
Richardson's prediction could come true. As for eating more kale, the governor recommends his favorite method: "Chop. Simmer briefly in chicken broth. As broth evaporates, add olive oil, garlic, pepper, salt. Eat it hot!"