Hon! Hon! Hon! Angry Baltimoreans defy restaurateur’s trademarking of local term


Found on the Facebook page: “No one owns HON, hon.”

Photo by:

What would a real “hon” say to Café Hon owner Denise Whiting, upon hearing that she has trademarked the term and claims to “own” it?

“A real hon would kick her ass and she’d cry,” said Baltimore writer Rafael Alvarez, sort of kidding and sort of not, but definitely among those spitting-mad yesterday morning to read about Whiting’s legal claim to the local form of address.

Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting (right) unveiling new flamingo sign with then-mayor Sheila Dixon in Dec. 2009.

Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting (right) unveiling new flamingo sign with then-mayor Sheila Dixon in Dec. 2009. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Since yesterday, when news of the trademarking plopped onto Baltimore’s consciousness like a glob of crab guts on a linoleum floor, there have been calls for a boycott of Whiting’s restaurant and civil disobedience at the next Honfest. A Facebook page has been created — “No one owns HON, hon‘  – with over 600 “likes.” There’s afake Denise Whiting  Twitter site (“don’t retweet this or you’ll owe Cafe Hon ten dollars”), parody stickers like (“pHONy”) are proliferating and, on the Internet, there has been a tsunami of angry comments.

“It’s the final straw for a lot of people. The chees-ification of Baltimore culture has got to stop,” said Baltimore writer Michael M. Hughes, who started the Facebook campaign. “It’s the disneyfication of something, the cheapening of it, it’s not real anymore, it’s hollow. People are disgusted by this.”

Meanwhile, plans are already afoot, some actually somewhat serious, to challenge the Café Hon owner’s attempt to legally lock down the beloved three-letter word and image of a 60s Baltimore housewife in a housedress and hair-sprayed bee-hive hairdo that, despite the commercialization, still seems to many to epitomize Baltimore.

Shot of the sign on 295 featured on Welcome to Baltimore, Hon, shot by Katrina Krauss

Shot of the often amended sign on 295. From Welcome to Baltimore, Hon. Photo by Katrina Krauss

“Am I thinking of using my site’s name on a tee shirt or a mug? I am and I will,” said Bruce Goldfarb, founder of “Welcome to Baltimore, Hon,” a website that’s been active for about a year that catalogues Baltimore’s quirky characters, history and general zeitgeist.

But what if making and selling such products would bring legal action from Whiting?

“I would relish that: bring it on!” said Goldfarb, a freelance writer who believes Whiting’s claim to the word “hon” on tee-shirts, mugs, pens etc. is “a pretty broad claim” on something in such widespread use it would never hold up.

“I just patented the crab cake: hey, now she owes me money!” Goldfarb said. “That’s what I have to say to her.”

Likewise, William P. Tandy, creator of the ‘zine series “Smile Hon, you’re in Baltimore,” told The Baltimore  Messenger he has no plans to stop his activities.


But Whiting says she has lavished time and money on nurturing the “hon” brand and deserves to both profit from it and serve as keeper of the flame, protecting an economic development tool for the city from misuse.

“I took ownership of it,” she told The Baltimore Sun.” “No one along the line has celebrated it or created as much with it as I have. When I started doing Cafe Hon in 1992, 18 and a half years ago, where was the city then? Where was Hampden? So you could say I took a little word, celebrated it and created change. Big change.”

A Hampden bank storefront display.

A Hampden bank storefront display. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Whiting’s lawyer told the Sun her client is not trying to stop people from saying the word, just from using it to make a profit. Turns out Whiting has had the trademark for awhile, confronting others who have put “hon” on souvenirs. She charged a non-profit $25 to hold a Hon themed fundraiser, according to the Sun, and is pondering ways to profit off the trademark, including asking the city to put a parking lot in Hampden near her restaurant if they come to her and ask to use “hon” in a tourism campaign.

Online comments have been overwhelmingly, sometimes viciously, anti-Whiting, calling her a carpetbagger, “money-grubber,” and “parasite.”

“Her ego matches the prices in her dive,” one wrote.

“You did not invent a product; you stole a local phrase complete with its history and unique culture and exploited it for your personal profit,” another said. “And now you have the audacity to claim legal ownership. Have you been eating lead paint?”

Whiting, who often compares herself with beloved-or-reviled Oprah Winfrey, told Larry Perl, of The Messenger, who broke the story Thursday, that the matter has been blown out of proportion.
“I have done nothing wrong,” she said

A kitsch claim staked

Whiting opened her Hampden restaurant 18 years ago and themed it to “celebrate” the image of the woman in the cat’s-eye glasses who scrubbed marble steps in 1950s Baltimore and turned up later in John Waters movies.

Honfest 2010

The Little Miss Hon competition, 2010 Honfest. (Photo by Fern Shen.)

Since then, Hampden has prospered with trendy boutiques and restaurants and Whiting has marketed the concept with “hon” paraphernalia, the annual Honfest, the Little Miss Hon contest etc.

“Hon” became a noun (like “townie” or “guido” or “yuppie” ), as well as a term of endearment (like “sweetie.”)
“You want a refill, hon?” Baltimore waitresses still say.

The “hon” image has apparently supplanted sailing ships at the Inner Harbor as the main marketing motif for the city, judging by the art on the most recent New York Times travel piece on Baltimore.

Waters himself has gotten royally sick of it: “To me, it’s used up,” he said, in 2008. “It’s condescending now.”

Hughes agrees.

“The people who come to Café Hon these days, they’re not from Baltimore City, they’re slumming, they’re yukking it up about ‘hons,’ laughing at them,” he said. “It’s like a minstrel show.”

Fake fur flying over this one!

Whiting’s defenders and her more numerous critics have been going at it online.

“She simply wants to know that that Word and the Style of the ‘HON’ is not doing anything to tarnish what she has built. And your just jealous because you didnt think of it…” jrbuck32 commented, on a Messenger story.

Opposition to Whiting's trademarking of the word "hon" formed quickly on Facebook.

No One Owns the Word Hon Facebook page

But Bawlmerhon shoots back: “No I did not think of it and neither did she !! Beehives and Cat Eeye glasses have been around for far longer than she has! What’s next trademarking Steamed Crabs ??”

On the Facebook page, the reaction has been more mocking, defiant and creative.

“Did you hear Hampden’s going to host its first reggae festival this summer? Get ready for MONfest 2011!”

“If I were to use a picture of my grandmother from the 60’s to sell something, you’re telling me this woman should get a piece? Will someone with a law degree and some money please tie this up in court?!!”

“I suggest everyone produce one item with “Hon” on it and place it one ebay for sale. Let Denise sue hundreds of us.”


Perhaps nobody in town has thought about hons in as many different ways as Alvarez, who asked to be described as “a local-born writer who has covered the authentic ‘hons’ and their families in Baltimore for 30 years. ” And then he pretty much went off. Some of the printable excerpts:

From Facebook

“This is what these disneyland hons don’t understand. A real ‘hon’ has no sense of irony about Baltimore they just ARE. And if you tried to make fun of them by talking or dressing a certain way they would punch you in the face. That is Baltimore.”

“When my mother, ‘a true hon,’ thinks people are making fun of her, she has been known to retort: ‘SMELL ME!’ That is a hon.”

“She hasn’t worn a beehive in 40 years – ‘too much trouble.’ A real hon wants to be comfortable. The Whitings of the world won’t let a hon evolve. To them, everyone is stuck in 1962. But the hons endure … to this day, from Arbutus to Dundalk and all points in between.”

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  • Charm City Now

    Something is seriously wrong with this woman!

  • esmevander

    Ms. Whiting’s seriously underestimated Baltimore’s kick-ass spirit, methinks–thanks Mr. Alvarez, your comments were on the mark.

    I understand she’s not “from ’round here” so perhaps she can be forgiven her mercenary mockery of the locals all these years, but she’s pushed too far this time–and I don’t think she even realizes it. Today’s article in the Messenger, she’s totally defiant, saying she’ll “sue the pants off” anyone using the oval HON. I think I counted about 150 former patrons comments saying they’re boycotting both the new store and the cafe.

    Lady needs some serious lessons in “crisis management.” She doesn’t need a lawyer–she needs a damn PR consultant. (And maybe a shrink.)

  • Bdplaid

    An interesting tidbit about the endearment, “hon;” I’ve heard it used in Philly, Ohio and Wisconsin. Is Whiting going to make trouble all over the country? And further, what idiotic bureaucrat allowed this to be trademarked? It’s like trademarking the word “the.”

    sheeesh, this is so stupid, maybe Whiting IS from Bawlmer.



  • Kathy

    Hons don’t fight! They love everyone, Hon! At least someone was smart enough to promote all of the good things that HONS stand for and represent. Hopefully this will draw attention to the true meaning of HON.
    There are lots of HONS in Ocean City, just waiting for a “HON” get together in spring , 2011 , down da oshun, HON.

  • Mark

    Maybe I could trademark the number 5 next?

  • Joan Jacobson
  • Fetskoe

    She is not claiming the word “hon” in verbal conversation. She has trademarked the oval HON label, just as Coke has a trademark. Don’t tell me you all are that stupid!

    • USA kills all

      still, i’ll trademark “fetskoe”

  • Syasko
  • 66mustang

    I grew up among relatives and friends in Dundalk and Highlandtown who were/are true hons. There was even a subculture of hons still prevalent in my graduating class of “72 at. Dundalk High. They were the good ole days

  • glsever

    Festskoe – she has had a trademark on the oval logo for a while now, she now has a “trademark” on any printed usage of the word for marketing purposes. Which frankly is ludicrous. How can you legally own the marketing rights of a word…?

  • David Wiesand

    I hope Denise Whiting gets the message that this was a bad decision and does the right thing by apologizing and dropping it.

  • DD

    @Fetskoe.. We aren’t stupid… The anger and outrage is coming from the arrogant quotes she made in Baltimore Sun article: “I took ownership of it,” she says of the word. “No one along the line has celebrated it or created as much with it as I have. When I started doing Café Hon in 1992, 18-and-a-half years ago, where was the city then? Where …was Hampden? So you could say I took a little word, celebrated it and created change. Big change.”

    My response… Yeah Denise, you own the word Hon.. You might want to talk with my grandmother and her 10 sisters… They were using the word hon wayyyyy before you “saved this city”! You and your gaudy fuscia leggings and boas and leopard prints… what the hell!?! You’re beyond offensive…

  • Owl Meat Gravy


  • Ricky Savard, Arbutus.

    There is no way a person can trademark a word represents culture. The word “Hon” belongs to Baltimore and its residents. That would be like someone trademarking the word “Emo.” It reflects a group of people, a way of living and a way of being. That parasite didnt invent the word. She took a part of culture to make money from it, thus cheapening the word and its sweetness or how endearing it was. If she really cared about Baltimore and it’s REAL HONS, then she wouldnt want to control something that doesnt belong to her or make money off from it either. You cant just claim things to be your own just because you so called “helped” get something on a map. Hampden and its culture existing before you. Seriously though. Its like trade marketing anyone using a crab as a logo, or a lighthouse. Or how about any of the other dialect from Baltimoreans like Bawlamer or Downee Oshun.
    This is not going to be good for her or business. She should have left it at the celebrating with Honfest and stayed away from the courts. Baltimore will not stand for this.

  • Laura Betz

    This is a really interesting story. It’s interesting how the owner would take a very common term and trademark it. I love the term that was used in this article, “disneyfication.” What will the implications of this be for Baltimore residents?

  • Juicy3436

    The guy in the article is correct. Real hons didn’t and don’t wear leopard print dresses and boas, tacky jewelery and look like they just climbed out of a dumpster. They did have beehive hairdos, cat eye glasses, capri pants, scarves, maybe at home curlers and housecoats. They were just down to earth blue collar gals who didn’t take any crap. And we really don’t want to take any from this tacky broad who doesn’t know what a hon is!

  • Debi

    I would like to see the community up in arms over the out of control teenage pregnant young ladies strolling babies up & down the avenue at 11pm, with a “hon in the oven”. This is the crisis of Hampden…not Denise Whiting. Let’s all get a grip and come together as a positive force to make a real change and stop being offended by someones entrepenorial endevours. Pull up your big girl pantyhose and be the change you want to see in the world.

  • Attila the Hon

    Hmmm… what else B’more to TM? Coddies, downey oshun, U-turns at 4-way stops, walk-in alleys, marble steps, the very term “rowhouse,” A-rabbers, concrete yards… the list goes on.

  • Lee Watkins

    The “Hon” welcome, Beehive hairdoos, Formestone, John Waters Flicks, Frank Zappa, stoop scrubbing, etc. all come from Highlandtown, not Hampden. What Hampden has going for it is being the urban mainstreet most easily accessible to Baltimore County residents who moved out of the city. But if anyone ownes these things it’s the heart of Baltimore – Highlandtown and the Eastern Ave. mainstreet, not 36th St.

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