‘F’ bagel store sticks it to MTA

The Brooklyn Paper
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Ahmed Samhan has turned the tables — make that the alphabet — on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Samhan is the heroic bagel-maker whose F-Line Bagels on Smith Street was forced to remove the “F” train logo from its front sign after the MTA sued for trademark infringement last year.

Seems the MTA felt straphangers would be confused by all the train insignias and think the transit agency had gotten into the bagel business.

Yes, Samhan’s store was filled with the subway system’s distinctive iconography. And yes, it sits under the Smith/Ninth Street station.

But any similarities between F-Line Bagels and the F line end there.

For one thing, Samhan’s store is sparkling clean. For another, his employees are friendly. And never once has anyone tried to search my bag when I entered F-Line Bagels.

Although the law is an ass, Samhan grudgingly complied, breaking apart his expensive front sign even before it had been fully paid off.

He also covered all examples of the MTA’s colorful alphabet on other signs throughout his store and even taped napkins over the offensive part of his “F-Line Bagels” t-shirt.

But now, Samhan is fighting back. Loyal customers have recently noticed that the transit logos have returned — albeit with the letters perfectly backwards.

And legal experts think Samhan may actually get the last laugh over his train-running nemeses.

“The standard in a trademark case is very simple,” said Brooklyn Law School professor Marshall Leaffer. “The aggrieved party needs to prove that the public would be confused — in this case, that customers would think the MTA was involved with the bagel store.”

But IF the letters are reversed, such confusion, unlikely to begin with, is virtually impossible.

“The likelihood of confusion has become less potent,” said Leaffer, a visiting professor from Indiana. “Anyone seeing a backwards ‘F train’ logo would think it was a parody. A reasonable person would not believe the MTA was sponsoring a bagel shop with such a logo.”

As an aside, Leaffer said he’d never been to F-Line Bagels — “You have so many bagels in this town, it’s hard to keep up! — but thought the bagels at Nosh on Atlantic Avenue were excellent (the jury is still out, counselor).

Leaffer’s bagel credentials are suspect, but his legal opinion was validated by other experts. The MTA, however, did not return my calls.

Samhan’s new sign — this time with the letter F reversed — is expected to be installed next week, a victory for anyone who loves bagels, has a sense of humor, and believes that the MTA should run the subway system rather than prosecute bagel store owners..

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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