LOS ANGELES — It was a caffeine-charged Hollywood whodunit: Just whose bright idea was the “Dumb Starbucks” coffee shop that popped up and started serving free drinks from the corner of an otherwise uncelebrated strip mall.
Film permits that show the buzz-generating shop is tied to a comedy duo with a cult following might provide a clue.
Filming was authorized at the location three times in the weeks before the store opened on Friday, according to permits taken out with Film LA, a private nonprofit that issues the licenses.
The permits were billed to Abso Lutely Productions, which is run by comedy duo Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim.
Heidecker and Wareheim, commonly referred to as Tim & Eric, are known for their surrealistic brand of sketch comedy. The duo’s free-form shows on the Cartoon Network and the low-budget 2012 feature film “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” have won them a following.
On Monday morning, a line from the store wound alongside the parking lot and up the block, with some patrons stepping out to snap pictures in front of a green awning and mermaid logo that is familiar — except that the word “Dumb” is prominently featured.
They weren’t coming for gourmet fare: Their descriptions of the coffee ranged from “horrible” to “bitter,” and one parent said his daughter complained that the hot chocolate was like water.
Instead, they are just coming to say they came, and to score a white paper cup with a sticker bearing the curious logo.
“It was a pretty dumb idea to come out in the cold” and wait for nearly two hours to get a coffee, joked Anthony Solis, who lives in nearby Hollywood.
One nearby merchant said someone had been selling cups for $5 each to people who didn’t want to wait.
The store’s decor is reminiscent of a real Starbucks, complete with a huge menu on which most of the drinks were prefaced by “dumb” (“dumb iced coffee,” ”dumb white chocolate mocha”). One exception was the “Wuppy Duppy Latte,” which the menu said would have sold for $6 had the store been charging anything. The cash register was dark, though the tip jar was bulging.
Dumb Starbucks opened Friday, and the buzz it generated grew over the weekend with a boost from posts on Twitter and Facebook.
That caught the attention of the real Starbucks.
In a statement, the Seattle-based coffee giant said it has no affiliation with the Dumb Starbucks.
“While we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark,” spokeswoman Laurel Harper said in an email.
She added that most trademark disputes are handled informally, suggesting the company might not need to take legal action, though Starbucks had not yet succeeded in contacting those behind Dumb Starbucks.
At the front counter, a frequently asked questions sheet said the store was shielded by “parody law.”
“By adding the word ‘dumb,’ we are technically ‘making fun’ of Starbucks, which allows us to use their trademarks under a law known as ‘fair use,’” the sheet said.
It continued: “In the eyes of the law, our ‘coffee shop’ is actually an art gallery and the ‘coffee’ you’re buying is considered art. But that’s for our lawyers to worry about.”
One law professor suggested that Dumb Starbucks needed to sharpen up its legal theory.
“Fair use” can protect parodies of copyright material, but a trademark such as the logo has different protections that Dumb Starbucks may well be violating, said Mark McKenna, a trademark law expert at the University of Notre Dame.
Like others, McKenna suspects the store is a publicity stunt — but for what, he could only guess.
AP reporters Candice Choi and Jake Coyle in New York City contributed to this story.