September 15, 2007
By JEFF KAROUB - AP
A small but growing coffeehouse chain is changing its name amid concern that the moniker meant to celebrate the seed of its main product also is a disparaging term for Hispanics.
“That just doesn’t really fall within our mission to have a name that is derogatory,” Bob Fish, 44, Beaner’s chief executive, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview. “We felt it was important to do the right thing and change the name.”
Fish, who co-founded the company in 1995, said there hasn’t been any broad resistance or protests against the name, just people asking if the company knew about the connotation. And inquiries have grown as the company has — particularly in the southeast United States, where it has five locations.
Biggby, he said, allows the company to rename without rebranding — Beaner’s logo is a big black ’B’ with an orange background.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term was preceded by “bean-eater,” a slur against Latin-Americans, particularly Mexicans. The earliest example goes back to 1919, and the first recorded use of beaner as a derogatory term was 1965.
“The concept of referring negatively to Mexicans because of what they eat goes back a long way,” said Jesse Sheidlower, an editor at large at Oxford. “You can offend unintentionally. That beaner has a meaning within the coffee community doesn’t matter if it coincidentally is the name of an ethnic slur. You don’t want to get to the point where it looks embarrassing.”
One notorious example is Sambo’s, the restaurant chain that crumbled under financial problems and criticism for the stereotypes its name implied in the early 1980s.
The name of the chain, which at its height had 1,200 restaurants in 48 states, wasn’t meant to be offensive. Co-owners Sam Battistone and Neil (Bo) Bohnett combined their names to create the restaurant name.
Still, the restaurateurs decorated their dining rooms with drawings from an 1899 children’s story called “The Little Black Sambo.” Although the setting was India, the drawings eventually transformed Sambo into a stereotype of happy-go-lucky blacks in the American South and the term was a racial stereotype by the 1920s.
By the late 1970s, the Urban League and chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York went to court to ask for an official name change.
Juan Tornoe, an Austin, Texas-based Hispanic marketing consultant, said it’s clear to him and should be to anyone that Beaner’s name is about coffee, not contempt.
But the name change could be a smart move for a company with national aspirations: By 2050, nearly a quarter of the U.S. population will be of Hispanic heritage.
“If you want to get that piece of the pie, you have to cater to them now,” Tornoe said. “You have to be sensitive to the things that they hold close to their hearts.”
James Maher, an analyst who covers coffee retailing giant Starbucks Corp. for San Francisco-based ThinkEquity Partners LLC, is only vaguely familiar with Beaner’s.
But he sees the name change as more of a necessity than marketing opportunity.
Maher said Beaner’s is one of many regional players in the highly competitive coffee scene operating in the shadow of Starbucks, which has 9,000 U.S. stores and 14,000 globally. It opens a store every three hours on average, he said.
In fact, there is a steep drop between Starbucks and Caribou Coffee Co., which has about 480 stores in the U.S. He said one regional player worth watching is Peet’s Coffee & Tea Inc., with 150 shops nationally but most in California.
“It’s just been a tough business for somebody to acquire a real good franchise and consistently make money, other than Starbucks and Peet’s,” Maher said. “In terms of executing and developing a real strong following ... it’s very difficult.”
Despite its small stature, Fish said Beaner’s has bucked the trend: It reported systemwide sales of $22 million last year, and projects more than $30 million this year. The company’s growth rate has doubled every two years and it plans to have 300 shops within five years, he said.
Source: The Detroit Free Press