Profile - Lucille Faro

Chicken Licken pecks at vegans

● Feathers are flying in a legal tussle between a popular chicken franchise and a small Durban North vegan eatery.

Chicken Licken claims that the vegan restaurant’s name, Oh my Soul Café, and its use of the word “licken” in its menu are confusing to customers, and so it is hauling the vegan restaurant to court over alleged trademark infringements.

So dire is the “consumer confusion” that Chicken Licken says it needs urgent adjudication by a judge, and the dispute is due to be aired before Durban high court judge Dhaya Pillay this week.

From two chicken outlets started by the late George Sombonos in 1982, the popular franchise now has 240 outlets around SA. It has registered 40 trademarks over almost every combination of the word “soul” and “licken” imaginable.

In court papers, Chicken Licken MD Chantal Sombonos-Van Tonder, who took over the company from her father, accuses Oh My Soul’s owner, Richard Duffin, of using “confusingly similar” variations of the trademarks including Soul, Rock my Soul, Catch my Soul, Bless my Soul, Feed your Soul, Soul Food, Soulful and Licken.

These, she says, appear on the cafe’s Facebook posts, coffee cups, serviettes and menus. It also offers a “grilled licken breast”.

“Soul”, says Sombonos-Van Tonder, is central to her brand’s identity.

“It is more than a trademark. It is a cocktail of meanings and associations. It communicates ‘African cool’, a pride in Afrocentric heritage and self-validity, typified in the US by the civil rights movement and the great soul singers.”

Sombonos-Van Tonder says her company has spent hundreds of millions of rands on advertising over the past 15 years and was suffering unquantifiable damages because of the theft of its property and goodwill.

“The nature of a registered trademark is that it is an indication of origin which identifies a unique source of a particular product.

“It is a right which is liable to suffer very serious damage where members of the public are misled as to the source and, in particular in the case of food, where one bad experience can cause a consumer to never try a product bearing that trademark again and tell all of his and her friends.”

Ironically, shortly after the Chicken Licken franchises started to enjoy huge success in the 1980s, competitor KFC took Sombonos to court for trademark infringement. KFC claimed that Chicken Licken sounded too much like its slogan, “It’s finger lickin’ good”. The judge didn’t agree and the case was thrown out.

Duffin, in his affidavit, says the business opened last year and is “actively involved in the local vegan food industry”.

He adds: “We live by the philosophy that animal cruelty is what shatters our souls and brings awareness to the exploitation and suffering that is inflicted onto millions of these trusting, vulnerable souls.

“We choose to live consciously. We believe, together with millions of people around the globe, that all animals have souls and require protection.”

He says his branding was not visually, phonetically or conceptually similar to Chicken Licken’s.

“There is no argument that our mark does contain the word soul — in a descriptive sense — but that’s where the similarity ends.

“They serve various types of fried chicken from shops with an identical look and feel. We only serve vegan food to a community of discerning people who follow the strict philosophy. There can be no confusion.”

With regard to his use of “Soul Salad” on his menu, he says he has changed that to “Sacred Salad” to avoid unnecessary confrontation.

The use of the word “licken” was also purely descriptive to describe a product known as seitan, which tastes like chicken.

This has been replaced, again to avoid confrontation, with “vicken”, a play on the words vegan and chicken.

“The words Oh My Soul are also used in conjunction with the slogan ‘Be kind to every kind’.

“I submit that no-one will be led to believe that there is any connection between us and Chicken Licken.”



of Chicken Licken franchises throughout SA



on the words ‘vegan’ and ‘chicken’ that now features on the vegan restaurant’s menu


The first township, along with Soweto, to get a Chicken Licken franchise