Disputed Pub Subs Twitter Account Founder Talks About Spat With Grocery Chain
The Twitter account had been silent since March 11 after a second cease-and-desist letter was sent. It showed signs of renewed life after news reports and expressions of public support.
The founder of a disputed but popular Twitter account that alerts people when Publix chicken-tender subs are on sale says he will keep posting updates – and keep his fingers crossed that the grocery chain giant doesn't sue him, as it threatened.
In an exclusive interview, Bryan Dickey, 26, said he plans to "see what happens" as he keeps updating the @PubSubs_on_sale Twitter account, which has nearly 40,000 followers. That happened after an outpouring of support on social media and vitriol directed at Publix Super Markets Inc. after details of a trademark showdown emerged earlier this week.
Dickey, who graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, said he also may use the account to share his interactions with the company, which became icier as the account has grown in popularity. He said he no longer intends to profit from notifying Publix customers about sub sales – which he said specifically agitated the grocery chain's lawyers.
In his interview, Dickey acknowledged he became greedy after realizing the value of the service he built, which included a related text-messaging feature and sales of Publix subs-branded merchandise.
Dickey said lawyers for Publix sent him ominous, cease-and-desist demands citing Section 43 of the Lanham Act, a 1946 federal law protecting trademarks. That provision of the law describes false designation of origin and false description or representation.
Dickey said Publix did not demand that he shut down the social media account, just two related businesses that were profitable for him. Last year, Dickey said he had made $5,000.
“I've decided that I'm not going to let not making money get in the way of me living out that mission statement of bringing joy to the internet and connecting people through Publix subs,” Dickey said.
Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, reported Tuesday that the account had been the subject of cease-and-desist demands from Publix.
The Twitter account had been silent since March 11, after Dickey said he received a second cease-and-desist letter, but it showed signs of renewed life after this week’s news reports and expressions of public support that included messages from two Florida lawmakers.
Reps. Dan Daley, D-Sunrise, and Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, tweeted about the issue during the waning days of this year's legislative session in Tallahassee.
The Twitter account posted in quick succession Tuesday afternoon: It thanked its fans with a heart-shaped emoji composed of icons of sub rolls and separately announced that Publix chicken-tender subs were, in fact, on sale this week for $6.99.
Dickey launched the account in 2017. The idea came from another popular Florida-centric social media account, “ThingsFloridiansLike.” The account, which launched in 2013 but has been largely dormant for the past year, has over 350,000 followers.
Most of its posts poke fun at Floridians’ behavior, long a source of internet fodder. The account would also post about what people in Florida like. One of those entities? Publix.
Dickey said he realized whenever he posted about Publix, the tweets not only went viral but the response was generally positive.
“Other content was controversial, like, ‘I like the beach.’ ‘Well I hate the beach.’ ‘Well I don't like you,’” Dickey said. “It was just back and forth like that. But whenever I posted the Publix content, it was positive. People connected.”
Dickey said he made the Publix subs service to create something positive in the wake of the 2016 election between former President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
“That's when fake news became a thing, and there was just hate racism, bigotry, everything that was shared on the news was super negative at the time,” Dickey said. “And I saw this as an opportunity to spread positivity.”
His relationship with Publix was amicable. As recently as 2019, the main Publix Twitter account – which is the only account Dickey’s Publix account follows – was engaging with the tweets and sending direct messages back and forth.
Publix responded to the account’s first-ever Tweet in January 2017 with a link to their online ordering platform and added a green heart. The company even sent Dickey a thank you care package.
“I still, to this day, don't understand why the communication stopped,” Dickey said. “I definitely thought as the account grew there would be a closer relationship, and it's gone the opposite.”
Despite the account’s impact, Dickey said he spends just a few hours a week operating it. He wouldn’t share how he learns when the subs are on sale, though he said he’s not walking into his local Publix daily to check the deli for a sign.
Beyond his secret methods, he’s had help over the years from leaks inside Publix.
“There's been people that are just associates. They're the ones that hang up the signs,” Dickey said. “They would DM me and say like, ‘Hey, we're getting ready to hang these signs up on Thursday.’”
Like his followers, Dickey is a fan of Publix’s famed chicken tender sub. He shared his order: chicken tenders on white bread with the bread scooped out, chipotle gouda cheese, banana peppers, lettuce, salt and pepper and buffalo sauce, toasted.
Dickey said he’s sought out legal advice and received free consultations regarding his legal dispute with Publix. He said he doesn’t have the money for a lawyer.
“I can't afford to pay for a lawyer for something that I can't make money for,” he said.
Despite his decision to push forward, he’s fearful that Publix will come for the social media accounts even though he will no longer be profiting from the page.
“I don’t want to get sued,” he said.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.