Reading Terminal shop gets Olympic-sized reprimand

This neon sign and the logo behind it will have to be changed because of an order from the U.S. Olympic Committee. ELISE WRABETZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
This neon sign and the logo behind it will have to be changed because of an order from the U.S. Olympic Committee. ELISE WRABETZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: July 12, 2012

IN A CONTEST over a humble lunch counter in Reading Terminal Market, the U.S. Olympic Committee won't win a gold medal for sprinting.

Three decades after it burst from the starting block, the Greek eatery Olympic Gyro has received a cease-and-desist email from the USOC, the nonprofit corporation responsible for training and funding U.S. teams. The June 7 notice demanded deletion of the word "Olympic" from the food shop's title, claiming copyright of the word under a 1978 law.

Congress granted the USOC all commercial use of Olympic imagery and terminology in the nation, including the word "Olympic" and the symbol of five interlocked rings. But for some reason, its issue with the Philly luncheonette has not exactly advanced with the speed of Usain Bolt.

Still, the blow hits close to home for owner Athens Voulgaridis, who has grown attached to the name since his family bought the shop in 1984.

"It's been a part of my life as long as I can remember," Voulgaridis said Tuesday. "We're very Greek Orthodox, we go back [to Greece] often. For them to take something that is Greek and make it theirs for money is frustrating."

The USOC communications department declined to discuss the matter with the Daily News. But in its email, the organization emphasized the need to "protect the rights of companies who financially support the U.S. Olympic Team," such as McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

"‘Olympic' has been around forever; you can't just buy a name," Voulgaridis said. "They don't have a right to do that, but I'm not going to fight the government."

He estimates that changing the name of his lunch counter will cost at least $6,000, because he'll have to design and order new employee uniforms and signs. He asked the USOC if it would reimburse him, but he was denied.

In its email, the USOC said it only "recently became aware" of Olympic Gyro's use of the word, which may explain why it took three decades to ask the lunch counter to cease and desist.

"I'm thinking they found me off the Internet, since they contacted Reading Terminal first and the market forwarded me the email," Voulgaridis said. "Or maybe they just started enforcing it recently, I don't know."

In a follow-up letter June 18, the USOC said it "sympathizes with your position," so Voulgaridis was given until the end of 2013 to "come to a resolution."

The committee initially suggested the name "Olympus Gyro," and after Voulgaridis requested "Olympia Gyro," he got the OK.

"They were nice to me, but then again, I didn't cause much trouble," he said, adding that he couldn't have afforded a risky court battle with the USOC.

"I don't have the money to fight it," he said.

Many businesses have been sent similar letters in the past, including Improv Olympic Theater and Olympic Meat Packers Inc. in Chicago and Olympic Cellars in Washington state (A grandfather clause allows businesses named before 1978, like Olympic Paints, to keep the name).

Then last month, knitters who belong to the social-networking site Ravelry faced the USOC's ire. In 2008, they started the biennial Ravelympics, in which the crafters complete projects during the time frame of the Olympic sports. When USOC cried foul last month, it unintentionally caused an Internet uproar.

"We believe using the name ‘Ravelympics' for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games," the letter from USOC said. "In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country's finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work."

The Olympic committee later submitted an apology for the "insensitive terms" used in its letter. The Ravelympics are now known as the Ravellenic Games.

For Voulgaridis, knowing that he's the not alone in his Olympian battle won't change the outcome.

"When you pass by a place that has ‘Olympic' in the title, you go in knowing that the owner is Greek," he said. "And now that's gone."  

Contact Anna Pan at 215-854-2595 or

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