[dehai-news] (Globe&Mail, Canada) Two Eritrean businessmen fight over "Obama"

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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Wed Mar 18 2009 - 07:38:54 EST

An Obama duel on the Danforth


March 18, 2009

Two Obama enthusiasts trying to tap the President's popularity to drive
business at their side-by-side Toronto stores have begun a legal duel over
who has rights to put the famous name on their sign.

The use of the President's moniker by both fledgling stores, which are
separated by a dusty outfit called Jane's Happy Bar on an eastern stretch of
Danforth Avenue, has left many customers with the impression that a local
Obama chain has been formed.

But the owner of the Obama Cafe, the first of the two stores to borrow the
name and plaster the President's mug over its furnishings, is bent on
ensuring his block won't suffer from an Obama overdose: He has demanded, via
a cease-and-desist letter, that his "copycat" change the offending sign.

"Morally ... I would be ashamed," the proprietor of Obama Cafe, Emmanuel
Debass, said of his competitor. "It's not the fact that he came up with a
name just like me. He didn't consult with me. He undermined me."
Of course, Angesom Fitsumberhan, the alleged copycat, sees things a bit
differently. Mr. Fitsumberhan, 30, is the two-year owner of a cyber café
that morphed from its former name, United Cybernet, into Obama Cybernet, in
late February, the day after Mr. Obama made his first visit to Canada. Mr.
Fitsumberhan said he had been planning to rename his Internet café for
months before the new sign was put up. The fact that the sign change
occurred the day after Mr. Obama's Canadian visit - coverage of which
spurred media to flock to the Obama Cafe - was merely a coincidence, he

"I'm not that kind of person. I try to be peaceful," Mr. Fitsumberhan said.
"I'm a newcomer. I'm trying to be a productive person."

Mr. Fitsumberhan, an Eritrean who said he was granted Canadian citizenship
the day after Mr. Obama was inaugurated, caters mainly to teenagers who have
dubbed him "Obama." And he has been especially careful to avoid overlapping
on services offered by his neighbour.

For example, he has stopped brewing coffee in the stained pot he keeps near
the cash register to avoid being accused of infringing on Mr. Debass's sales
of the special Kenyan "Obama" blend. Unlike Mr. Debass, who plans to offer
"Obama combos" featuring the President's favourite snack foods, Mr.
Fitsumberhan offers no food other than refrigerated bags of potato chips and
candy bars.

"I don't want to fight with him," Mr. Fitsumberhan said of his neighbour. "I
didn't do this sign to damage [Mr. Debass]. I'd like this whole street to be
Obama street."

Mr. Debass, a 50-year-old who is also of Eritrean heritage, remains
unconvinced. He worries that the competing Internet café will confuse more
customers and mar his chances of franchising his cafe into a cross-country
"Obama-mania thing."

Yesterday, Mr. Fitsumberhan was still weighing Mr. Debass's suggestion that
he ought to change his sign, or face a possible civil court challenge.
Changing the words above his store is unlikely to affect the flow of his
business, the fact that neighbourhood kids are calling him Obama, or his
"good name," he said.

"I am Obama," Mr. Fitsumberhan said, grinning. Then, nodding towards his
competitor, he whispered: "He is [John] McCain."

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