In just six years, Portland, Oregon's Olympic Provisions has gone from a small restaurant with an attached charcuterie facility to a major brand complete with Portlandia immortality and an upcoming cookbook. And now it has to change its name, thanks to a cease-and-desist notice from the International Olympic Committee, the organization that coordinates the Olympic Games. OP co-founder/meat-maker Elias Cairo says OP's two restaurants (one of which has been a longtime member of the Eater Portland 38) and meat department will soon re-brand into Olympia Provisions, bypassing the trademark dispute by altering one letter. "We start looking around at everything we've branded, from packaging to restaurants to delivery trucks," Cairo says of the costs to change OP's name. "To put a dollar figure on it would be impossible."
According to Cairo, the cease-and-desist arrived in September 2014, as part of a recurring random sweep by the IOC to enforce its trademarks. "It was hilarious," Cairo says of the email he received from one of OP's co-founders. "Because I assumed it was a joke." But the International Trademark Association reports that both the IOC and its American arm, the United States Olympic Committee, "actively police" its trademark rights specifically to "protect Olympic corporate sponsors against dilution of the value."
And that value is remarkably high: The IOC reportedly made $4.1 billion off the broadcasting rights to the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, while corporate sponsorships accounted for an additional $957 million between 2009 and 2012. In the food world, meat purveyors Tyson Foods were an official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic teams in 2008 and 2010, and McDonald's remains one of the event's biggest corporate sponsors. After an illicit Starbucks surfaced inside the Sochi Games' media headquarters, that McDonald's sponsorship is likely what forced the rogue pop-up to lock down: The Wall Street Journal noted that "Olympic sponsors such as McDonald's usually defend their turf more fiercely than a Team Canada goalie."
"In hindsight, we should've had the foresight to think the 'Olympic' word is a protected word," Cairo says. "We touched base with our lawyers — we did the search for Olympic, and there are thousands of Olympic businesses out there." According to the ITA, the use of "Olympic" is sometimes allowed if "the name 'Olympic' refers to the naturally occurring mountains or geographical region of the same name" and is not widely marketed outside the state of Washington. "We opened with the idea of servicing the Olympic Mills [building]... and doing one or two farmer's markets," Cairo says. "If you would have told any of us in 2009... that in five years we would have 100 employees, two restaurants, 13 farmer's markets a week, be selling a full line of handmade meats nationwide and getting in trouble with the Olympics, we would have all laughed or been too tired to have cared."
For Olympic Provisions — which was named after the building that houses its first restaurant, Portland's historic Olympic Mills building — they've reached a deal with the IOC that will allow them to slowly phase out the old OP labels and branding. (The short-term solution involves simply stamping a letter "A" on top of the existing labels; the OP team expects to be completely rebranded by this summer.) Cairo is forging ahead with OP's growing line of products: fresh-packaged sausages, deli-format salamis, and whole-muscle salamis including Spanish-style lomo, coppa, and guanciale. "We get lots and lots of offers in other cities; right around now, we've just caught our breaths," Cairo says of potential expansion plans. "We love our two restaurants — however, we're always throwing around ideas." For now, he says: "We're really trying to concentrate on what we do best."