This summer, two towns celebrated Polish culture by hosting local festivals devoted to pierogis—stuffed dumplings that form a tasty staple of cuisine across central and eastern Europe. The food at each festival was surely delicious, but relations between the towns have turned sour. As Becky Jacobs reports for the Chicago Tribune, the festivals are now locked in a federal lawsuit over the names of their pierogi extravaganzas.
The town of Whiting, Indiana, has been home to the Pierogi Fest for the past 23 years. The Edwardsville Pierogi Festival in Pennsylvania is a relative newcomer—it held its first event in 2014, and officials over in Whiting were none too pleased. In 2015, the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce, which runs the event in Indiana, sent a letter to the Edwardsville Hometown Committee, threatening to sue the committee for infringing on the name “Pierogi Fest.”
According to the Associated Press, Whiting trademarked the name of its festival in 2007. The registered trademark symbol is indeed stamped across the event’s website, which promises to offer the “wackiest fest in the Midwest.”
In June of this year, Whiting sent a second letter to the Edwardsville Committee, once again calling on officials to "cease all use of the infringing Pierogi Fest mark," according to Jacobs. The letter was also sent to five sponsors of the Edwardsville festival, which has in turn promoted some companies to rethink their support for the event.
Last week, Edwardsville Hometown Committee filed a federal lawsuit against the organizers of the Whiting Pierogi Fest. Court documents allege that Whiting officials "willfully and tortiously interfered with the Hometown Committee's relationship with sponsors" by "threatening them with liability for the claimed trademark infringement," Jacobs of the Tribune reports.
Edwardsville is seeking compensation for damages suffered, reimbursement for attorney fees, and a judge’s permission to continue using the name of its event.
The warring festivals both feature live entertainment, family-friendly activities and—of course—oodles of pierogis. But the event in Whiting is much larger; it draws about 300,000 people every year, while the Edwardsville fest attracts around 5,000.
This is not the first time that Whiting has found itself locked in an epic battle for dumpling domination. Joseph S. Pete of the Times of Northwest Indiana notes that the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber filed an infringement lawsuit against the Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival “about a year and a half ago”—and it won the case. The latest kerfuffle over pierogi parties, however, finds Whiting as the defendants of a lawsuit.
Organizers of the Whiting festival say they threatened the other town with legal action because its similarly named event could lead to “consumer confusion.” According to the AP, lawyers for the Edwardsville group “call that absurd, noting the festivals are 700 miles apart.”
How will this food fight end? Only time will tell. At the very least, the legal tussle does not seem to have deterred Pennsylvanians from their Polish-themed smorgasbords. The Kielbasa Festival in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, is slated to kick off this Friday.
Editor's note, August 9, 2017: This piece initially noted that both festivals take place in the Midwest. Rather, just the Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Indiana, does. The Edwardsville Pierogi Festival takes place in Pennsylvania.