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REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Deb’s Frozen Lemonade owners Joyce Castelli (left) of Vinton and Debra Castelli of Roanoke County have registered their trademark in Virginia with the help of Roanoke law firm Woods Rogers. The business had been threatened with legal action by Del’s Lemonade, which does business in 13 states.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
“People think of this as their lemonade stand,” Debra Castelli said. “They’re like, ‘Don’t mess with our lemonade store.’ ”
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
With the sun setting early on cool October days, the frozen lemonade season has pretty much tanked. This is a time of year when customers barely trickle in to Deb’s Frozen Lemonade on Brambleton Avenue in Roanoke. It’s the typical fall pattern for the tiny, mom-and-daughter business.
All the rain we had this summer put a damper on profits, too. You could say 2013 has not been a bumper-crop year for Deb’s. But still there is some cause for celebration by owners Joyce and Debra Castelli. They’re now the proud holders of a registered Virginia trademark for their business.
Six months ago, the Castellis had never thought about trademarking the logos for their 36-year-old operation. It’s a single, cinder block stand with three trucks that prowl the Roanoke Valley, hand-dipping the slushy drink the old-fashioned way. At the Brambleton Avenue store they sell hot dogs, potato chips, soft pretzels and cookies, too.
Then in June they heard from Rhode Island-based Del’s Lemonade, an industry giant that sells frozen drinks at dozens of stands in 13 states.
The letter from Del’s high-powered lawyer, Jeffrey Techentin, questioned Deb’s logo — a leafy lemon with “Deb’s” scrawled across it in green cursive type. The letter suggested it infringed on trademarks owned by Del’s, which has been in business since 1948. It hinted Del’s would sue if Deb’s didn’t change its signage and trucks.
But if Techentin thought he could intimidate Joyce Castelli, who’s 83, he was absolutely wrong. She took a train to Rhode Island and met with him, looked him right in the eye. And he backed down.
Castelli says Techentin (who has never returned any of my calls, including Monday’s) was affable and welcoming. He seemed surprised to learn that Deb’s Lemonade was in business, using its logos, before Del’s Lemonade ever registered theirs as trademarks. Oops.
I wrote about all of this in two columns back in June.
During their meeting, Castelli asked Techentin for another letter retracting the legal threats he’d hinted at in his first letter. She says he promised to send her one, provided she didn’t call up “that reporter” — that’s me — as soon as she got it. She was willing to cross her heart on that.
“But what if he calls me?” she said to Techentin. “He’s a newspaperman. That’s his job. I’m not going to lie to him.” God bless her.
Techentin’s letter letting Deb’s off the hook has never arrived.
Meanwhile, the Castellis have experienced an outpouring of customer support since those columns in June.
“People think of this as their lemonade stand,” Debra Castelli told me. “They’re like, ‘Don’t mess with our lemonade store.’ ”
Joyce Castelli has been just slightly uneasy ever since. But Roanoke’s largest law firm, Woods Rogers, stepped up and eased those concerns. At no cost to Deb’s Frozen Lemonade beyond a $30 filing fee, they helped Deb’s get its own Virginia registered trademark.
And that put Deb’s in a much stronger position than it had been before.
“We think it’s important to support a local business,” Woods Rogers lawyer Joshua Long told me. “I know that Deb’s is looking to close this chapter and move forward with business and not have this type of disruption in the future.”
Long’s partner Michael Hertz, did most of the work. The result is that Deb’s now has exclusive rights to use a leafy yellow lemon with “Deb’s” scrawled on it in green ink all across Virginia.
It’s good for the next five years, and as long as Deb’s remains in business and renews it, they can keep it just about for forever, Hertz said.
Also, “it’s a good way of insulating them against frivolous claims, like [the Castellis were] facing previously,” Long said.
Here’s the best part: Del’s has no stores in Virginia. And if they ever attempt to bring one to the Old Dominion, for example at the seashore, and use their lemon-with-green-ink logos, they may have the Castellis — and the no-slouches law firm of Woods Rogers — to deal with.
Because a bonus aspect to Deb’s Virginia trademark is that now, “we’d have a better claim against Del’s in Virginia Beach than Del’s has against Deb’s in Roanoke,” Hertz told me.
For the Castellis, that news is sweeter than Deb’s Lemonade. But for Del’s, which never had to pick the fight to begin with, it could prove sour indeed.
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