The Holy Donut on Park Avenue in Portland Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

In a dispute over all things holey, a café in southern Oregon is changing its name to avoid confusion – and potentially costly litigation – with The Holy Donut of Maine.

On the back burner for more than a year, matters finally came to a head this week after a lawsuit motivated Michelle and Chris Newton to rebrand their operation, which opened in Klamath Falls as The Holey Donut in December 2019.

“In the last couple of days it’s kind of all blown up,” Michelle Newton said Thursday afternoon by phone from Oregon, referring to social media uproar on the heels of an article in her local Herald and News in which she said she felt bullied into the name change.

In response to that story, Holy Donut CEO Jeff Buckwalter released a statement Thursday morning explaining his yearlong attempts to reach an understanding with the Newtons, only to be repeatedly rebuffed.

“We tried very diligently to come to a mutual agreement that wouldn’t impede their ability to do what they need to do,” Buckwalter said in an interview with the Press Herald. “It really didn’t have to come to this.”

The Holy Donut registered its name as a protected trademark nine years ago, when it first started selling its mashed potato-infused doughnuts on Park Avenue in Portland. The company has since expanded to Scarborough in 2017 and Auburn last month.

Buckwalter said he has dealt with similar trademark infringements half a dozen times in the past four to five years, as far away as Arizona and Hawaii. In some instances, if the other business is located outside of New England, Buckwalter said The Holy Donut makes a coexisting agreement, if the other party has no plans for expansion.

That was the case with a Wisconsin teenager who sold doughnuts out of a trailer painted with clouds and dubbed it the Holy Donut.

“We’re not trying to impede on anybody’s ability to conduct their business and to earn a living,” Buckwalter said. “The coexistence agreement is a way in which we can achieve our goal – which is to protect our brand – and allow for them to continue to do their business.”

Michelle Newton poses with the Holey Donut Cafe sign on its last day in front of the store in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Photo by Tim Trainor/Herald and News

Last winter, Buckwalter contacted the Newtons to let them know about the nearly identical names and, although the Newtons declined to sign a coexisting agreement, he said they agreed to change the name of their business.

Michelle Newton said she was stubborn about sticking with Holey, in part because of the 3,000-mile distance, in part because it differed from Holy – “Although I believe in God, we’re not projecting our store with angel’s wings or halos or anything like that” – but mostly because one of her six grandchildren had come up with the name, “and she was adorable and we loved it.”

In April, Newton said she and her husband added burgers and sandwiches to their offerings, and changed the business name to The Holey Donut Café, figuring that would be sufficient. In June, however, Buckwalter saw a social media post announcing that the Newtons were expanding their operation with a pink truck.

He said repeated attempts to contact the Newtons went unanswered. After a few months, he asked his trademark attorney to send them a letter, which he said was also ignored.

Part of owning a trademark, he said, is a duty to protect it. Allowing other businesses to infringe upon it without creating some sort of agreement, he said, is tantamount to losing your rights to it.

“It’s important for us because we have plans to continue to grow our brand,” Buckwalter said. “We don’t want to jeopardize our potential growth as a company by not having that trademark be secured. We were up against either defending our mark or potentially losing it.”

So in December, The Holy Donut filed suit. Michelle Newton said she was served the papers in January. She spoke with an attorney in Oregon and ultimately decided not to fight the lawsuit.

In a temporary measure, Newton replaced one word on her sign with another of five letters, so The Holey Donut Café became The Holey Moley Café. She said she has filed a different name with the state of Oregon and the city of Klamath Falls and ordered new cards and fliers.

“We appreciate that they have a name to protect and we respect it,” she said of the Maine bakery. “I was the holdout. Everyone else wanted to move on, but it was special to me because one of the grandchildren had named it.”

In a family vote taken Wednesday night, Newton said the new name will be Doughy, with a tagline of Donuts and Sandwiches. A blizzard on Thursday prevented her from putting up the new name, so she said the sign currently is devoid of letters, just white with a pink doughnut.

As for reactions on social media, Buckwalter said those who understand what it means to own a trademark understand The Holy Donut perspective.

“We weren’t pursuing any money,” he said. “We simply wanted them to stop infringing on our trademark. That was really the end of it.”

All three Holy Donut locations start each day with fresh doughnuts. Any leftovers are donated to local schools, food pantries or social service agencies.

“We have a very well-documented history of doing what’s right in our communities,” Buckwalter said. “Our brand is strong and genuine and resilient, and I really have no worry about any negative impact this might have.”


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