Here’s something that’s bound to get a North Carolina barbecue lover’s dander up: A Florida company has taken an iconic tee celebrating the state’s ‘cue diversity and turned it into an insulated cup.
It certainly riled up John Pugh when he saw the design he created some seven years ago on a Tervis cup at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
The design features an outline of North Carolina split down the middle. One side is labeled “tomato,” the other, “vinegar.”
The shirt represents the age-old battle in the Tar Heel state over the supreme form of barbecue and its sauce. Eastern North Carolinians tend to prefer a vinegar-based sauce, while westerners tend toward the tomato.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
So when Pugh heard that Bed, Bath and Beyond was selling tumblers with his design printed on them, he was angry.
Pugh created the design for House of Swank, a downtown Raleigh family business dedicated to producing “the raddest NC-themed shirts and swag on the planet, period. Blowing minds is optional, but encouraged,” Pugh, aka “Johnny Swank,” said.
The North Carolina barbecue design was one of the first created at House of Swank, Pugh told The News & Observer on July 30. Thousands have been sold in local shops, pop-up markets and arts and crafts fairs, and even shipped to other countries, he said.
“It’s kind of our bread and butter design,” he said. “It’s pretty near and dear to us.”
The design on the tumblers is identical, Pugh said.
“Pretty much pixel-for-pixel an exact copy — the same font, everything,” Pugh said.
Pugh and his family headed to the Cary location of Bed, Bath and Beyond and found the tumblers. Pugh posted a photo of himself, wearing his design and holding up the cup.
Tervis is the company that creates the tumblers, Pugh said. Tervis, based in Sarasota County, Florida, responded to The News & Observer by text on Monday evening that it is gathering facts about the matter.
“Tervis is a family owned and operated company that is founded on innovation and design,” the company said in a statement. “This is something we take very seriously and we are currently looking into the matter.”
New Jersey-based Bed, Bath and Beyond did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Pugh said he reached out to both companies and hadn’t heard back as of Monday afternoon.
“I called and Tervis hung up on me,” he said. “I hustled my a-- off for this. You guys didn’t.”
Fans and supporters have already reached out to the companies on House of Swank’s behalf, Pugh said, leaving reviews, tweeting, emailing and calling.
Pugh said he was planning to talk to a lawyer.
“We started this in a two-bedroom apartment near Cameron Village seven years ago,” Pugh said. “We were just screening shirts. We’re proud of what we’ve turned this into and we’re proud of our designs. But I don’t have fifty grand to throw out for a patent or trademark.”
But, Pugh said, House of Swank does have a copyright on the design.
Tervis already has some legal problems. According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, a small printing business in Sarasota is accusing Tervis of conspiring to steal trade secrets.