Willie McCoy's

Sierra Hubbard / Sentinel Staff

Lou Maciel of Freetown, Mass., and his coworkers read menus at Willie McCoy’s Pub and Restaurant in Keene shortly after its opening in October.

Just a few months after opening, a Keene eatery is changing its name to avoid infringing on a Minnesota company’s trademark.

Willie McCoy’s Pub and Restaurant at the Best Western Plus hotel on Winchester Street launched in mid-October. The business was met with high praise from customers excited for a new bar as well as those who missed the old tenant. The space formerly housed Waxy O’Connors Irish Pub, which closed abruptly in the summer of 2017, and the interior of Willie McCoy’s has nearly all the same decor.

But owner Tracy E. Gunn of Munsonville said she’s worked diligently to distinguish her pub’s brand from its predecessor.

“... I worked really hard to not get people to call it Waxy’s, you know, which is why I want to keep the ‘Willie’s’ part (of our name),” she said, “because people still refer to it as the old Waxy’s or the new Waxy’s or whatever, and we aren’t affiliated with Waxy’s.”

She plans to start the transition soon to the eatery’s new moniker, Willie Mac’s.

Gunn also owns Life is Sweet, a desserts and candy shop in downtown Keene, and The Flight Deck, a restaurant at the Keene-owned Dillant-Hopkins Airport in North Swanzey.

Gunn said her husband, Gavin, came up with the Willie McCoy’s moniker from a line in Jim Croce’s song “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.” Along with wanting a name that sounded Irish, Gunn said she was glad they could accommodate the large “W” emblazoned on the floor in one of the seating areas.

After returning from a recent vacation, however, Gunn said she was hit with a curveball. She said she received a letter Jan. 15 from lawyers representing Willy McCoys, a chain of restaurants in Minnesota, explaining that the name is trademarked. The Minnesota company said its customers reported confusion with the Keene eatery, according to Gunn, who said some of her patrons had also called the wrong pub a few times.

Willy McCoys’ ownership was not immediately reachable for comment Tuesday evening.

According to a trademark manual, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office considers whether two names are “confusingly similar” when granting a trademark, including if they sound or look alike, despite different spellings.

Gunn said her goal is to settle the matter without animosity.

“I understand their point. They worked hard, they built their business someplace else and they’re worried that … if I’m not doing a nice job here and (customers) think I’m affiliated with them, it hurts them,” Gunn said. “I get that, which is why I’m willing to kind of work with them on trying to resolve it amicably.”

Gunn posted Saturday on the Willie McCoy’s Facebook page and asked the page’s followers for their input on a new name. She told The Sentinel she wanted to include her customers and get their opinion, rather than surprising everyone with a different moniker.

Laughing, she said she pitched the name Sticky Willie’s, inspired by an English dessert, but found that Facebook followers weren’t fans.

After weighing her options and considering customers’ feedback, Gunn said she plans to rename the joint Willie Mac’s. First though, she wants to confirm with the lawyers in Minnesota and ensure that the name is dissimilar enough from Willy McCoys.

“But I think Willie Mac’s is sufficiently different enough that it will not confuse my customers, and it certainly shouldn’t confuse their customers, which is the goal,” Gunn said. “... I think if we can keep the ‘Willie’ part, I think we’ll be fine, and I think it will be an easier transition for me.”

Most of the menu items have “Willie” in the name, she pointed out, adding that she thankfully hadn’t installed her larger outdoor sign yet.

Gunn expects the complete transition to take a couple months.

“It’s a little setback, but not something that I’m going to let get me down,” she said. “I’m invested, so now I just have to make it work, like everything. That’s what you have to do in business.”