Baja Fresh Really is Trying to Rip off Kogi!

Photos Courtesy of OC Mexican Food Blog

It looks like the battle between Baja Fresh and LA’s Kogi BBQ truck is just starting to heat up.  A quick recap for those who haven’t been following it closely… at the end of last month the OC Mexican food blog first reported that Baja Fresh had added “Kogi Tacos” to one of their locations in Irvine, CA, a seemingly blatant rip off of the LA Korean taco truck with the same name.  Readers were outraged, although some commenters on various blogs pointed out that “kogi” is just the Korean term for “meat”, so it’s probably legal.  On Thursday, NRN confirmed that Baja Fresh was in fact going ahead with their Kogi named line of Korean tacos, although the owners of the NYC Baja Fresh said it wasn’t going to be coming to New York.  (And in a double whammy, neither is the Kogi BBQ Truck we were promised a few months ago!)  Well, the Wall Street Journal blog is the latest to chime in, shining some added light on the legality of the name, and whether or not Baja Fresh can use it:

[Baja Fresh] chose to call the dish “kogi” because that is a transliteration of the Korean word for meat. Although it says now a Korean-language expert is investigating whether “gogi” might be a more accurate spelling and if Baja should use that instead.

“It speaks to our non-desire to rip off the Kogi name,” Mr. Rink says. Research and development staff from the chain did sample the tacos at the Kogi truck, but didn’t copy the recipe, Mr. Rink says. It created its own Korean taco using steak and chicken.”

So it seems like the word “kogi” is not really the commonly used phonetic spelling of “meat” that we thought it was.  Which begs the question… doesn’t the Kogi BBQ Truck have a trademark!?!

The WSJ article mentions that as well:

Baja Fresh filed for trademark protection for the term “kogi” on May 8th, Mr. Rink says. Kogi filed its trademark paperwork for “kogi” on December 4th of last year, but only for narrow use, just on mobile food carts. Baja Fresh is seeking protection for the use of Kogi with everything from tacos and burritos to promotional toys. Kogi co-founder Caroline Shin-Manguera says a steep “learning curve” when starting the business accounts for the wording on the trademark application.

Ms. Shin-Manguera says she finds it flattering that Korean barbecue-style tacos are becoming so popular. But “the use of the name after we have worked so hard to create a Kogi community through Twitter and bloggers” is “disheartening,” she says.”

So, clearly Kogi screwed up their trademark filing- but they should still be protected since a) it sounds like they actually did kind of invent the word “kogi” (or at least that particular spelling of the word), and b) because there would undoubtedly be consumer confusion if Baja Fresh was to go forward with their “Kogi” tacos.  More than likely Baja Fresh will probably end up going with the word “gogi” instead, to avoid a lawsuit.  Or, maybe the Kogi BBQ folks plan on cutting a deal with Baja Fresh to allow them to use the name Kogi (and bring Korean tacos to the masses.)  This could be one explanation for why they’ve decided to hold off on their NYC plans- although their spokesperson had this to say about that theory:

“Kogi is not affiliated with Baja Fresh, nor do we ever plan on partnering with them. As for NYC, our efforts have been postponed so that we can grow responsibly. Whichever city we do decide to roll to in the next quarter or year, Kogi will be sure to bring its A-game.”

Is Baja Fresh Ripping Off Kogi? (And More Importantly How Soon Will The Midtown Branch be on Board?)
Kogi’s Korean Tacos Not Coming to NYC Anytime Soon


  • I am Korean and no Korean ever says Kogi. It’s gogi…but then my last name is Kim but no Koreans in Korea pronounce it ‘Kim. It’s actually ‘Gim’.

  • Who cares how they say it?
    Neither offering of Kogi/Gogi tacos are coming to New York, so we don’t have to worry about pronouncing it correctly.
    Personally, I will be calling them Yogi taco from this point on…screw Cali…

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    Who cares? The more Korean meat tacos, the better.

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    The Korean word for pickled vegetables is commonly romanized as “kimchi” but it technically should be romanized as “gimchi”. As mentioned earlier, the common Korean last name “Kim” (and “Lee” and “Park”) are also not romanized according to the current standard. Either way, it is quite clear that “Kogi” is referring to the Korean word for meat. And according to , foreign words cannot be trademarked, besides a few exceptions (kogi/gogi would not be one of them).

    This is simply the advent of a new food word into the mainstream American consciousness. Imagine if blogs were around when sushi was first introduced to the US. The idea of the word “sushi” being trademarked, or another company ripping off another by using the word “sushi” sounds quite ridiculous to us now, but that is exactly what is happening here.

  • @panax – Yeah, but the difference is this… if a company called themselves Zushi they could trademark that couldn’t they. I think they could argue that Kogi is the equivalent to that, couldn’t they?

    The most common American spelling of Korean meat is bulgogi, not bulkogi. And the term kogi is not a commonly used term on Korean menus (whereas the term “sushi” would have been on a lot of Japanese menus in the early 80s.)

  • Ugh, this site is where I come when I’m trying to AVOID doing law. Some interesting background on trademark disputes:

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    I have definitely seen people use boolkogi before. The thing is, even with that, I’ve seen it spelled different ways… Yes, there is probably a phonetically correct way to spell it, but if we were going off of that, anyone who’s anyone should try to trademark “kimchi”, because that’s definitely not how it’s supposed to be pronounced. So, then people should start trademarking their spelling of bulkogi/boolkogi/boolgogi/bulgogi.. hey… you don’t have a single one that’s common, right? So lets just trademark all of them and sue the shit out of anyone that uses any of the terms… we can make a killing! This is just f’n retarded.

    The term “gogi” or “kogi” IS a common term on Korean menus. I’m pretty sure 80% – 90% of the restaurants on 32nd (k-town) will have something on the menu with that term in it. Even if all were using the “g” instead of the “k”, there isn’t a single menu item that uses the term “gogi” or “kogi” alone. It’s always combined w/ some other term. “bool” being an example, or “dalk/dahk/dak” being another one. maybe that’s why its not as noticeable.

    In any case, if Kogi can trademark the term “kogi”, I would be extremely surprised at how ignorant and retarded these laws are.

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