You rascals! Whitby cafe threatened with legal action by rival tearoom

Former miner and self-taught baker Mark Whittaker with his partner Helen Matos who together run the small cafe, Sandgate Coffee, in the historic town of Whitby.  Picture Ceri Oakes.
Former miner and self-taught baker Mark Whittaker with his partner Helen Matos who together run the small cafe, Sandgate Coffee, in the historic town of Whitby. Picture Ceri Oakes.

There’s nowt a Yorkshireman likes better than a Fat Rascal, but the fruity cakes have become the unlikely subject of a bitter legal feud between rival tearooms.

In a David and Goliath battle the tiny Sandgate Cafe, which has just three customer tables, found itself under threat from the famous Betty’s Tearooms chain because it dared to sell the plump scones - best served warm with cream and a cup of tea.

Former miner and self-taught baker Mark Whittaker makes a fresh batch of Whitby Fatties each day in the small kitchen above the cafe. Picture Ceri Oakes.

Former miner and self-taught baker Mark Whittaker makes a fresh batch of Whitby Fatties each day in the small kitchen above the cafe. Picture Ceri Oakes.

Owners Helen Matos, 52, and Mark Whittaker, 53, were shocked to discover the name of the Yorkshire delicacy, which Mark learnt to make as a five-year-old boy at his mother’s side, has been trademarked by Betty’s.

And showing a steely resolve that belies its chintzy image, the firm jealously protected its brand with a threat of legal action if the cafe did not remove the name from the signs on its counter and its social media page.

Helen and Mark, who established the cafe in Whitby, North Yorks, when he was made redundant from the local potash mine, were outraged when Betty’s company secretary came to the shop in person to confront them.

They said Sheila Huntridge ordered the removal of the Fat Rascal brand immediately and followed up her visit with two legal letters.

Former miner and self-taught baker Mark Whittaker makes a fresh batch of Whitby Fatties each day in the small kitchen above the cafe. Picture Ceri Oakes.

Former miner and self-taught baker Mark Whittaker makes a fresh batch of Whitby Fatties each day in the small kitchen above the cafe. Picture Ceri Oakes.

Helen said: “We were absolutely flabbergasted that they would target our tiny little cafe, which they clearly see as some kind of threat.

“And for them to trademark the Fat Rascal name is preposterous. They have been made since the 1800s and the first one on record was made over a peat fire on the edge of Whitby in 1855.

“So if anyone has a right to sell them surely it’s a cafe in the town where they were invented?”

Betty’s refused to relent and Mrs Huntridge sent a letter to the Sandgate Cafe pointing out that they were not merely a chain of tearooms but also operate a cookery school, craft bakery and sold its tea, coffee and cakes online.

Former miner and self-taught baker Mark Whittaker makes a fresh batch of Whitby Fatties each day in the small kitchen above the cafe.  Picture Ceri Oakes.

Former miner and self-taught baker Mark Whittaker makes a fresh batch of Whitby Fatties each day in the small kitchen above the cafe. Picture Ceri Oakes.

She continues in her letter: “Our company has been using the name FAT RASCAL for 30 years and we own UK registered trademarks for FAT RASCAL, YORKSHIRE FAT RASCAL, LITTLE RASCAL and a registered design for the FAT RASCAL face, copies of which are enclosed.

“We believe that your current use of the RASCAL mark puts you at risk of trademark infringement. I appreciate that you were unaware that your activities infringe our trademark rights and I am sorry that I had to bring this matter to your attention, but I am sure you will understand that, like all businesses, we have to protect out intellectual property rights.”

She asks that all use of the Fat Rascal name cease and be removed at once from menus, labels, promotional material and social media.

The Sandgate, which will have been open two years in February, had no choice but to comply and have now changed the branding to Whitby Fatties, which appropriately enough are selling like hot cakes.

Former miner and self-taught baker Mark Whittaker makes a fresh batch of Whitby Fatties each day in the small kitchen above the cafe. Picture Ceri Oakes.

Former miner and self-taught baker Mark Whittaker makes a fresh batch of Whitby Fatties each day in the small kitchen above the cafe. Picture Ceri Oakes.

Helen said: “I think the real problem here is that we were becoming very well known for our Fat Rascals, which are absolutely delicious and made fresh on site by Mark.

“Someone commented on Trip Advisor that ours are better than Betty’s, that’s a customer’s words not ours, and I think someone at Betty’s has noticed.

“We’re ranked in the top three in North Yorkshire on Trip Advisor which is well above Betty’s and I think they decided to try to put us in our place.

“I couldn’t believe they went to the trouble of sending someone in person to speak to us. She came into the shop, stood in front of the Fat Rascals and said: “You are infringing our trademark.”

“She said she was from Betty’s but had no ID with her, I found the whole thing very heavy handed and told her she would have a full time job on her hand policing the Fat Rascal because they’re made all over Yorkshire.

“Her visit was followed up with letters and we’re only a little business so we changed the came to Whitby Fatties and they’ve become very successful, people absolutely love them and still say they’re the best in Yorkshire whatever we choose to call them.”

Mark said: “It’s hard to define what a Fat Rascal is, the best way is to try one.

“It’s somewhere near a scone and a rock cake, but it’s neither. It’s a simple recipe, a fat, a flour and fruit, and I learnt by watching my mum, Joyce and my Auntie Doreen.

“I was five and barely big enough to poke my nose over the kitchen table but I learnt from them and I’ve made them the same way ever since.

“How Betty’s were ever able to trademark the name is beyond me, I guess no one thought to challenge it.”

Betty’s have six tearooms, two in York, and one each in Harrogate, Beckwithshaw, Northallerton and Ilkley.

The firm Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate have owned the registered trade mark for the name ‘fat rascal’ since the early eighties.

According to the company it is “a plump, fruity scone with a ‘face’ made from cherries and almonds based on a rock cake recipe” and was developed by Helen Frankel, then a buyer and marketing assistant at Bettys.

It went on to become the company's best-selling bake, shifting over 375,000 per year.

The cake was mentioned in a story by Charles Dickens who likened them to the Singing Hinny, a similar bake from Northumberland. The 19th century method of making them always involved cooking them over a peat fire.

A Bettys spokesman said: “We’re sorry we’ve had to bring a disappointment to Helen at the Sandgate Café. As a family business, we’re committed to protecting the name of our specialities for the future and on behalf of all those who hold Bettys dear. It’s what any business has to do.”