British couple warned to change name of market food stall under threat of legal action by Wow Bao

A British husband and wife say they’ve been told to change the name of their market food stall after being threatened by legal action from US food giant Wow Bao. 

Jonathan and Alicia Horsley opened their stall, Bao Wow, at Darlington Indoor Market last month after months of preparation. 

But on their first day serving customers they received a letter from lawyers representing American food chain Wow Bao, which threatened ‘potential legal action’ over the name of their stall.

It called for the independent Pan Asian food stall to change its name as there is a ‘likelihood of confusion’ between the two brands.

Jonathan and Alicia Horsley, pictured, were shocked to receive a letter telling them to change the name of their market food stall Bao Wow

Wow Bao was set up 3,200 miles away in Chicago in the United States, and although it has 500 outlets in North America, it doesn’t have any on this side of the Atlantic. 

Mr and Mrs Horsley, who are from Middleton St George, near Darlington, say the name is an innocent coincidence and they had checked it wasn’t infringing on any UK-based companies before opening.

Given they have only been open a matter of weeks, the couple don’t wish or have the resources to legally fight their case – and are now in the process of looking for a new name. 

It comes as another Darlington business, House of Zana, is getting ready to battle fashion chain ZARA following a trademark dispute.

Lawyers for US chain Wow Bao say the name of the Darlington couple's stall could cause 'confusion'

Lawyers for US chain Wow Bao say the name of the Darlington couple’s stall could cause ‘confusion’

Alicia, 43, told TeessideLive: ‘It is a pain. Our logos are completely different and I don’t think the two could possible be confused.

‘We started on April 28. We came back after our first day trading to find this letter.

‘At that point we were in the stages of getting a sign so thankfully we haven’t spent a great deal of money on physical signs. 

‘Since we moved to back to the UK in 2019, we’ve had a big upheaval with covid.

‘Of all the things that could have gone wrong, it’s kind of like the last straw that broke the camel’s back – it’s pretty demoralising.’

In a letter to the couple, seen by TeessideLive, representatives for Wow Bao said: ‘As a result [of the similarities], there will be a likelihood of confusion (which includes a likelihood of association) on the part of the public. 

‘For example, there is a risk the public may believe that the Bao Wow goods/services come from our client or that Bao Wow is an economically linked undertaking to our client.’

The couple have now taken to social media to ask customers for any suggestions on what they can renamed their brand. 

One of their most popular dishes are the Bao Buns – a dish which has seen a surge in popularity in restaurants across the country.

The independent business has received a great first response from customers and is serving up ‘exciting, different and healthy food’ including delicious bao specialities – a steamed Taiwanese bun stuffed with a choice of braised belly pork, Korean fried chicken, or smoked tofu. 

Customers can also snap up a Rendang, a Malaysian and Indonesian specialty featuring melt in the mouth beef cooked for a minimum of 12 hours and served with steamed jasmine rice and a variety of vegetables and pickles.

Mr and Mrs Horsley opened their Pan Asian food stall at Darlington Indoor Market, pictured, last month

Mr and Mrs Horsley opened their Pan Asian food stall at Darlington Indoor Market, pictured, last month 

The couple have had various jobs between them – Jonathan’s previous roles include international sales and Alicia is a former teacher who once ran her own pet boutique.

‘We’ve had a great response from customers so far,’ Alicia said. 

‘We had a few teething problems when we first started but customers were really understanding.

‘We were making Korean and Taiwanese meals at home for people to buy during the pandemic which proved really popular so when we saw the stall open up at the market we thought we’d give it go. Jonathan is into marketing and food trends and said the Bao Buns would probe popular and they have so far.’

A spokesperson for Darlington Markets operator, Market Asset Management, said: ‘We hope the issue of the name can be resolved by the two companies amicably. 

‘The fact that a large company based more than 3,800 miles away in Chicago has a small new business in Darlington on its radar is testament to the high quality and burgeoning reputation of the independent street food traders we have at Darlington Markets.

‘We think it’s great that Alicia and Jonathan are staying positive and are turning to the public to help suggest alternative names. 

‘Their food has already proved to be a big hit with customers and will continue to be a welcome addition to our excellent food offering regardless of its eventual name.’

Wow Bao has been contacted for comment.


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