The man behind Dumb Starbucks

Comedian Nathan Fielder, who has a show on Comedy Central, announces that he's the man behind the Dumb Starbucks store -- which was giving its coffee away for free -- that opened in Los Feliz. The store was shut down Monday by the health department. (Christina House, For The Times / February 10, 2014)

Speculation brewed for days over the origins of Dumb Starbucks, the seemingly rogue coffee shop that opened in the Los Feliz neighborhood in Los Angeles over the weekend and was suddenly shut down Monday by the health department.

Frothy curiosity and furious Twitter queries were finally satisfied at a news conference at the Hillhurst Avenue location, where comedian Nathan Fielder of the Comedy Central show "Nathan for You" revealed that he's the man behind the faux cafe.

The store, which had out-the-door lines for several days, attracted crowds to its mini-mall storefront with a nearly exact copy of a legitimate Starbucks Corp. chain store. Its menu featured Dumb Iced Coffee, Dumb Frappuccinos and Wuppy Duppy Lattes, and its shelves stocked "dumb" music CDs.

Dressed in a green Dumb Starbucks apron, an in-character Fielder told the crowd he's always wanted to open a small business. 

PHOTOS: The scene at Dumb Starbucks

"There have been lines around the block, and very few small businesses get that from the start," he said, noting that capitalizing on Starbucks' name helped the business take off.

He did not elaborate on his plans for the store, except to say he hopes to open a second location in Brooklyn, N.Y.

That was shortly before the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said it had shut down the establishment for operating without a health permit.

Fielder's "Nathan for You," which was renewed for a second season last year, was the subject of much of the chatter before the disclosure. The series follows Fielder as he gets business owners to try absurd schemes. In one episode, he had a gas station owner offer extremely low prices — but only through a rebate that customers must deliver to a mountaintop.

"Nathan for You" is produced by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim's company Abso Lutely Productions, which had acquired film permits for the Los Feliz location, according to the nonprofit Film L.A. Inc. 

On the set: movies and TV

Heidecker and Wareheim are the duo behind "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!," a surreal low-budget sketch series that developed a cult following.

Although Fielder is known as a comedian, he said his Dumb Starbucks enterprise was "no bit, or joke," despite the fact his employees were giving the coffee away — not selling it.

"This is a real business I plan to get rich from," he said in a YouTube video.

Customers curious about the establishment, and asking how Dumb Starbucks could legally trade on the Starbucks brand name, logo and look, were handed copies of a "Frequently Asked Questions" printout, which claimed that "fair use" and laws protecting parodies exempted them from legal action.

Starbucks has said that the fair use argument does not work in this case but that the company is taking the parody with a sense of humor.

"We are aware of the store," Starbucks said in a statement. "It is not affiliated with Starbucks. We are evaluating next steps, and while we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark." 

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Aaron J. Moss, a partner at Los Angeles law firm Greenberg Glusker, said Dumb Starbucks "is copyright and trademark infringement on steroids."

"Simply calling something a 'parody' does not provide some kind of magical protection against infringement," he said. "You can't just take a famous logo and trade dress, call it dumb and use it to sell the very same products in competition with the company you're making fun of."