By Harriet P. Gross
Here’s something interesting: a case of cookies. Not a caseful of them, delivered ready for the eating — although that would be delightful! This is a court case.
We often say not to make a “federal case” out of something, but that just might be happening here. But we can be the (informal) judges on whether or not the matter is important enough for that. Although our opinions, however tasty, won’t matter much in the long run.
I opened my daily paper the other day to find a familiar face smiling at me. A smiling cookie face, the longtime logo of Eat’n Park, a chain of family-friendly restaurants in western Pennsylvania. Its Smiley Face Cookies are an important part of the life experience in Pittsburgh, my home town.
But this particular cookie might have been frowning. Eat’n Park is suing a Dallas-area company for alleged trademark infringement, because it too is selling smiley-face cookies. They’re a bit different, but most definitely recognizably close relatives of the northern kind.
All of us lucky enough to have lived in the land of Eat’n Park treasure the authentic Smiley Face. We head there ASAP on return visits to grab and gobble. When my family knows the date of my next visit, someone begins to pick up cookies in advance, freezing them so I’ll have happy companions for my coffee immediately upon arrival.
And here’s something you should know: While Eat’n Park isn’t a kosher restaurant chain, most Jews within eating distance will eat there. If not the frum, the next-most will partake of its exceptional salad bar and enjoy the best fresh fish entry in town: cod baked in orange juice. With a Smiley Face for dessert, of course.
Full disclosure: I have never eaten a cookie from the local competitors. But as a Pennsylvania partisan in this debate, I must insist that taste isn’t what matters most. Authenticity is. A Smiley Face is the one that Eat’n Park trademarked back in 1987. Period.
Additional disclosure: My husband is not a Pittsburgh native and does not properly appreciate either the cookies or Eat’n Park itself. He’s even asked me about that name: Why Eat’n Park? Shouldn’t it be Park’n Eat? Don’t you have to ditch the car before you can come in and sit down to dinner? I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t care. I think we all take the things we grew up with just as they are, without those logical questions. And I for one am grateful for the great constants in my life, the few things I grew up with that haven’t changed at all. Eat’n Park is one of them. (In all fairness: Pittsburgh moves slowly in a number of aspects, and has more of those stable elements than many other cities. When you visit a Jewish neighborhood, or an Italian one, or a Polish one, where kids are growing up in the same houses their grandparents were born in, you’ll know what I mean.)
Anyway, I don’t worry about parking at the Eat’n Park in the Jewish neighborhood, which is the one where I meet my son’s in-laws for an early morning breakfast. The little fresh-baked cinnamon buns are the best. So: Hold the toast, please. (But substitute a Smiley Face cookie instead!)
Over the years, Eat’n Park has created a few variations on its tried-and-true symbol. The basic Smiley Face is perfectly round, while the competitor’s entry into the fray is surrounded with petals that try to turn a cookie into a flower. The basic icing is white; the three dots making up eyes and nose, and the wide, single-stroke smile are always the same color — while that color can vary: pink, purple, blue, yellow, green, you name it; pick your favorite from the display up front, near the cash register. On important occasions, shapes and colors may morph, as into smiling black-and-gold footballs to celebrate Steelers’ Super Bowl victories. And I even have Smiley Face keychains modeled on the traditional original for distribution to the deprived. My Illinois grandsons, who only get to eat an occasional cookie, are crazy about them.
But the real thing is the best thing, whether we’re talking keychains or copycat cookies. I’m hoping Eat’n Park can negotiate an out-of-court settlement. If it can’t, I hope for the real Smiley Face to emerge triumphant. But if not, I guess that will just be the way the cookie crumbles. I will continue to show my loyalty by choosing the originals to crumble up in my coffee.
By Harriet P. Gross