Fume Bistro and Bar

Fume Bistro and Bar co-owners from left, Chef Terry Letson, Sheri DeBow, Andy and Marissa Amador.

The owners of a Napa restaurant are fuming about what they described as an attempt to “steal” their restaurant name and use it for a business that sells and delivers cannabis to people in Napa Valley.

Sheri DeBow and Terry Letson are two of the four owners of Fumé Bistro in north Napa. Their restaurant has been known as Fumé for the past 17 years, they noted.

After reading a story on Aug. 21 in the Napa Valley Register, they were surprised to hear of a new Fumé in town.

Called Napa Valley Fumé, this business operates a licensed dispensary in Lake County and acquires marijuana products from distributors.

Napa Valley Fumé teamed up with Eaze, an online platform that lets people order marijuana products and have them delivered within minutes. As of Aug. 7, deliveries could be made everywhere in Napa County except Yountville and American Canyon.

The four restaurant owners, who also include Marissa and Andy Amador, are not happy about the name overlap.

“The whole thing is such an incredible burn,” said Sheri DeBow. “It’s a bummer.”

Letson said he understands that the word “Fumé” is a common wine name. “The problem is the confusion,” he said. The Register article did not mention Fumé Bistro or that the two companies are not related.

“Now a significant part of the population thinks we're selling marijuana, which hasn’t gone over well,” Letson said.

While cannabis sales may be legal in California, it remains illegal under federal law, he noted. “It’s a controversial product that’s not mainstream.”

He’s worked hard to make a good name for Fumé Bistro. “To have such controversy over our name is really detrimental,” he said.

Napa Valley Fumé CEO Eric Sklar said he had not heard of the controversy over the Fumé name.

He defended the company’s choice. “Fumé is a name that has been used in Napa Valley forever. It’s a very common term.”

The two companies are very different enterprises, he said, adding, “There are no overlaps between the businesses.”

“We’re sorry if there is a little confusion. We don’t think it will last long,” he said.

Skalr said they chose the name Fumé because it means smoke.

DeBow said Letson chose the name Fumé for the same reason.

The word Fumé “is perfect for cannabis,” said Sklar. In addition, “We hadn’t seen any other businesses using it in our field. We were very excited to use a name that seemed appropriate for us.”

Letson said he’s not sure if the name has caused him to lose any business. According to Letson, about 25 percent of those who have shared feedback are under the mistaken impression that Fumé Bistro is now selling cannabis. Of that group, “There is a percentage who said we’re not going back to Fumé if they are going to sell marijuana.”

“Obviously I’d rather not be affiliated with a dispensary and a business that’s selling products I don’t agree with,” said Letson.

The restaurant owners have approached an attorney. As of last week, “I don’t know exactly what options are there.”

In a perfect world, Napa Valley Fumé would change its name, he said. Most of all, Letson said he wants “to make it clear that we're not affiliated.”

“It’s such a drag,” said DeBow of the Fumé name duplication.

“We’re not looking to dis anyone’s business or put down how someone wants to make money,” she said. However, “So many people still look down on (cannabis use),” she said.

“It’s not part of my life,” she said. “I don’t want to be affiliated with it.” 

“I’m not looking to squelch anyone’s entrepreneurial spirit but if you are going to start a new business your name should be the thing that makes you unique.”

DeBow believes that because their name isn’t trademarked, they can’t sue the other Fumé.

Her plan is to just “keep on keeping on. We are just going to keep saying we are the original Fumé.”

When asked if he planned to accommodate the restaurant owners’ concerns, Sklar demurred.

“We have a right to use the name. It’s a good name and we intend to use it.”

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.