The German company, Staaliches Hofbäuhaus or HB, says the Hofbrau Steak House and American Grille in Interlochen has to change its name.
This week Hofbrau’s owners, Brian McAllister and Laurie Bouwman, got a letter from the German company saying HB has a trademark on the name.
"HB, therefore, demands that you change the name of your establishment by removing the word HOFBRAU from the name of your restaurant," reads the letter signed by company officials.
The owners aren’t yet sure what they’ll do. McAllister says when they got the letter it felt like “a sock in the gut.” He says the Hofbrau has been in Interlochen since 1950.
"For 66 years people have come through the area knowing the Hofbrau is here," says McAllister. "And the reach is unimaginable of the amount of people that have come through our doors. We considered changing the name when we bought it in ‘97, but we thought the name had been here so long. How can you really change an iconic name like that?"
The German company says that the use of their trademarked name could deceive customers into thinking the two companies are linked, especially since the German company sells beer and has establishments in the United States.
"Your use may also dilute the distinctive quality of the distinctive and famous HOFBRÄU trademark” reads the letter.
McAllister gets where they’re coming from.
"I’m sure if it were my name," says McAllister, "and I started a company a hundred years ago or whatever it was, I would probably feel the same way that they do."
But on the flip side, changing a name is complicated and takes time and money.
"It’s really unimaginable the amount of things you go through to market a business over the course of time," says McAllister, "and in 18 years how much money and time we spent on the name Hofbrau is a little overwhelming."
And if they change the name, they’ll have to do that work all over again. It’s not just a sign change, it’s rebranding the company and changing merchandise like glasses and growlers. Plus, McAllister worries people will drive through Interlochen and think the restaurant is gone if it has a different name.
McAllister says he’s hoping people out in the community will have a good idea either for a new name or a way to save the current name.
And if they do have to go with a new name, McAllister says Hoffy is pretty good.
"Because we do Hoffy specials, Hoffy pizza, Hoffy burgers," McAllister says. "So it would incorporate some of the old with some of the new."