Something is brewing at Ravinia, and it’s neither a frosty lager nor a headlining musician.
It is a neighborhood battle over the use of the term Ravinia, a dispute that led Ravinia Festival to file a federal lawsuit against Ravinia Brewing Company on Oct. 25.
The suit (which you can find by scrolling to the bottom of this article) contends that Ravinia Brewing Company broke a 2018 agreement between the two parties and has used the protected Ravinia trademark to intentionally mislead consumers and reap the benefits, financially and otherwise.
“Defendants have falsely implied (and continue to falsely imply) an association with Ravinia (Festival) and its well-known RAVINIA (trademark). From all appearances, this false implication is intentional,” the lawsuit says.
According to its lawsuit, Ravinia Festival is requesting a trial by jury and demanding that Ravinia Brewing cease from using the term “Ravinia,” recall its products from its distribution channels and remove its marketing materials that use the term. It is also asking for financial restitution for any benefits gained by using the Ravinia name.
Ravinia Brewing Company has fired back. The local brewery released a statement via its social media platforms on Wednesday, Nov. 8, challenging the allegations.
In the statement, Ravinia Brewing accuses Ravinia Festival — a nationally renowned entertainment venue — of attempting to “intimidate” and possibly profit off the brewing company.
“Ravinia Festival’s suit is groundless and simply meant to bully us into submission through deep-pockets and lawyers,” the post reads. “We vehemently deny all of their legal claims and stand by our ability to continue to serve our customers through award-winning food, beer and community engagement.”
Ravinia Festival’s roots date back to 1904, according to its website, and the Ravinia Festival Association, the nonprofit that operates the festival, was incorporated in 1936.
The term Ravinia goes back further. In 1872, a community south of a newly incorporated Highland Park was named Ravinia — after the area’s trademark ravines — according to a history of the area by Elliott Miller and published by the Ravinia Neighbors Association.
The City of Highland Park swallowed the area in 1899, but the Ravinia neighborhood remains a historic district in the city that is home to a train station, a TIF district, Ravinia Festival and numerous other businesses, including at least four others that use the Ravinia moniker: Ravinia Reading Center; Ravinia Books, Antiques, Etc.; Ravinia Barber Shop; and Ravinia Tutors.
According to the lawsuit, the Ravinia Festival Association received a federal trademark for Ravinia Festival as an entertainment and dining enterprise in 2002 and another trademark for just Ravinia in 2011.
Ravinia Brewing Company — co-owned by Kris Walker and Jeff Hoobler, a recently elected Highland Park councilmember — began distributing beer in 2017 and opened its Highland Park taproom and taco bar in 2018 at 582 Roger Williams Ave.
That year, the lawsuit states, it entered into an agreement with Ravinia Festival to use the Ravinia name under certain conditions, such as printing “Brewing Company” at a specific size on its products and including a disclaimer on marketing materials to make clear its disassociation with Ravinia Festival.
In the lawsuit, Ravinia Festival alleges the brewing company has repeatedly violated the conditions of the agreement and intentionally misled consumers to believe its products are connected Ravinia Festival.
The lawsuit claims the brewing company’s violations include launching a music-themed beer, Key Strokes; and opening a Chicago location that was not associated with the 2018 agreement.
“Defendants’ activities intentionally create customer confusion, leading the public to believe erroneously that Defendants’ businesses are affiliated with, sponsored or endorsed by, or related to Ravinia and/or that supporting Defendants’ businesses benefits the charitable and educational work and purposes of Ravinia,” the lawsuit says.
The brewing company says that it has not heard a complaint from the festival in the five years since the initial agreement was established; however, in August, the festival approached the brewery with its concerns but disregarded the brewery’s proposed solutions, according to the the brewery’s statement.
The statement also says that Ravinia Festival has a history of attempting to “beat up” Ravinia Brewing and has touted its significant resources.
“The have made it known to us that, as a result of their donors, they are fortunate to have the ‘most expensive lawyers in the country,” the brewery says in its statement.
The entertainment venue says that annually it attracts about 600,000 guests over 120 events, such as top-shelf concerts (John Legend, Carrie Underwood, etc.), family movie nights and orchestra shows.
According to Ravinia Festival Association’s tax filings, it brought in $9.46 million in net income ($43.24 million revenue, $33.78 million expenses) in 2021 and claimed net assets of $225.64 million. Nearly $23 million, or 53%, of its revenue comes from contributions, while $13.3 million, or 31%, comes from programming. The association brought in $46.89 million but lost $2.67 million in 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic, its filings say.
Ravinia Festival officials did not immediately return a call from The Record.
News of the lawsuit has started passionate conversations within the community. A post on NextDoor had dozens of reactions and comments as of Thursday afternoon, as did Ravinia Brewing’s Facebook post.
“We have a legal and moral right to use the Ravinia Brewing mark,” says Ravinia Brewings’s statement. “We remain open to constructive dialogue with the festival — and it is our hope that the values of our community can once and for all be exhibited through peaceful co-existence.”