'Dumb Starbucks': Comedy Central star behind faux coffee shop

The mystery of Dumb Starbucks is solved.

Turns out the brainchild behind the faux Starbucks store in Los Feliz, with white-and-green cups and hot coffee, was comedian Nathan Fielder, star of the Comedy Central show "Nathan for You."


In a tongue-in-cheek news conference Monday afternoon outside the store on Hillhurst Avenue, Fielder thanked customers for patronizing his small businesses.

He said he planned to soon open a second location in Brooklyn.

Did Comedy Central know he was doing this, someone asked.
"Oh, now they do," Fielder said. 

The real Starbucks said earlier Monday that it was looking into the parody coffee shop, which quietly opened Friday. It drew lines of people looking to grab a free cup of coffee or take a photo in front.

"We are evaluating next steps and while we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark," said Zack Hutson, a spokesman for the company.

A list of frequently asked questions pegs the legality of the mock store to "parody art" -- an art gallery where the coffee is considered the art.

The store looks nearly identical to a typical Starbucks location with tumblers and CDs, including "Dumb Jazz Standards," on display. (It does, however, lack free Wi-Fi access.)

As word of the shop spread on social media, curious customers came to snap photos in front of the sign or pictures of the line of people wrapped around the small strip mall. Those who tried to cut to avoid a several-hour wait were promptly shamed out of line.

Rumors about the store's origin — a marketing ploy, an art installation or perhaps the work of a comedian — percolated through the crowd.

"It's a ballsy move on their part," said Ilya Khramtsou, 24. "It feels like they're sticking it to the company. Everybody drinks Starbucks coffee like zombies."

Those who waited in line Sunday said they came for the novelty, assuming it would be shut down before the weekend was over.

"It's a very L.A. thing," said Connor Sweeney, 24. "We'll see how long it lasts."

The biggest question among those who had seen the shop was who was behind the faux Starbucks and why.


Some believed the whole thing was a TV prank, and some even singled out the Comedy Central reality series "Nathan for You."

The brainchild of Nathan Fielder, "Nathan for You" is best known for its gags that use small businesses to trick customers. In one of his best-known bits, the show got a gas station owner to offer extremely low prices, as long as customers delivered a rebate form to the top of a mountain. The series was renewed for a second season last year.

The "dumb" baristas kept mum. A Los Angeles Times editor asked a Dumb Starbucks worker early Saturday morning whether the shop was part of a TV show, but the person declined to comment, except to say, "Well, there is a security camera over there."

Others speculated it could be the work of the street artist Banksy, who has targeted several cultural institutions in the past, including Disneyland and New York's Museum of Modern Art.

High-profile publicity stunts are a well-documented tradition in Los Angeles. 

Last year, comedian Kurt Braunohler used money raised from a crowdfunding site to send a plane over Los Angeles to write "How do I land?" in the sky.

In 2011, Brandon Walsh put up a phony sign on a former Circuit City building in Silver Lake announcing a new Whole Foods grocery store. 

Braunohler said in an interview that he liked the Dumb Starbucks idea as a parody of copyright law itself.

“I think it’s great, it’s an awesome idea," he said. "It can almost be interpreted as pro-corporate protection, which is fascinating.”


Times staff writers Ryan Faughnder and Deborah Vankin contributed to this post.