A pedestrian walks by the the Holy Donut's Exchange Street location in Portland's Old Port in October. The location is now closed but the company will be opening a new shop in summer 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Local breakfast confectioners The Holy Donut have sued an Oregon bakery with a similar moniker, forcing it to change its name.

On Tuesday, the Klamath Falls Herald and News reported that the Holey Donut Cafe received legal papers over the summer demanding a name change because the Portland bakery had a legal trademark on the name.

“Holy Donut learned through a Holey Donut social media post that Holey Donut is not only continuing to advertise donuts using its confusingly similar mark, but also expanding its use of that mark through a mobile food truck” read the complaint, according to the Herald story. Holey Donut was then ordered to appear in U.S. District Court in Medford, Oregon.

Holey Donut owners Michelle and Chris Newton consulted a specialist trademark attorney who said their chance of winning in court was 50 percent — even with the extra “e.”

The Newtons were stunned that a bakery more than 3,000 miles away, on the other coast, would care enough to take them to court.

“At first I was miffed about it but also scared,” Michelle Newton said to the Herald. “I felt like he was bullying me.”

Fans of the west coast shop have started leaving snide comments on the east coast bakery’s Facebook page.

“I prefer mine Holey,” reads one.

“I’m sorry, how exactly did a shop in Oregon negatively affect your business so much so that you felt the need to sue them?” asked another.

But the move is not about bullying anyone, Holy Donut CEO Jeff Buckwalter said.

“This is not David versus Goliath,” Buckwalter said. “This is David versus David. We’re both small businesses.”

He also said he initially contacted the Newtons in 2019 about their name and offered to let them keep it if they promised not to open a second location. Buckwalter said they refused. In June, the Newtons made plans to start up a food truck operation and Buckwalter sent them another message that went unanswered.

“Our attorney also sent them something but they ignored that, too,” he said.

That’s when Buckwalter decided he had no other option than to turn to the courts, noting his company has invested a lot of time and money establishing its Holy Donut brand.

It’s not the first time he’s had to defend it. Buckwalter has already tangled with similar-sounding donut brands in Arizona and Hawaii. Both backed down.

The Holy Donut, known for its Maine potato creations, opened in 2012 on Park Avenue. Since then, it expanded to four locations, though one of them closed this summer.

Buckwalter said he plans to expand and a national push is not off the table.

“We have big plans for our brand,” he said.

Spooked by legal fees and the prospects of losing, the Newtons decided to give in and change their name. Their Klamath Falls eatery will henceforth be called Holey Moley Cafe and Sandwiches. Along with the lengthened name, it also will feature a longer menu.

“We’re more than donuts, now,” Michelle Newton told the Herald. “But we’ve still got a lot of things with holes.”

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.