There's a pizza joint in town that calls itself "Batavia's Original" and claims it was established in 1947, but whatever claim the shop has to a once legendary local pizzeria was lost three weeks ago when the company fired its manager, Sam Pontillo.
Pontillo helped a group of Rochester investors open the pizzeria at 500 E. Main St., Batavia, in a building that was once home to a Pontillo's restaurant owned and operated by Sam's parents, Sal and Betty Pontillo.
Sal, more commonly known as Sam, with his brother Anthony, opened the original Pontillo's at the corner of Liberty and Ellicott streets in 1947. The original Pontillo's was the first pizzeria in Batavia and helped create a new pizzeria industry in Western New York.
Sam Pontillo says it's time for the Rochester-based owners to stop trading on his family's name.
Besides the claim to being established in 1947, the restaurant's menu also has a picture of Sal Pontillo right in the middle of it (pictured above).
"It (the menu picture) should come off now," Sam said. "There's no Pontillo involved and we’re not getting residual from it. They're going to milk it for as long as they can, but they should do the stand-up thing and remove it."
"As for the 1947," Sam added, "how can they really use it? There’s a family attachment to 1947. I’m sure some lawyer will say it’s just a number, but it’s a significant number to my family."
Batavia's Original is a DBA of Batavia Pizza, LLC, a creation of Thomas Masaschi, Jeffrey Reddish and Jason Teller.
The Rochester-based group acquired the 500 E. Main St. location in 2009 after a bank foreclosed on the property.
The owners then hired Sam, who still operated the Pontillo's location in Le Roy, as the new shop's general manager and opened as Pontillo's in April 2010.
A few months later, Anthony Pontillo's heirs (Anthony filed for a federal trademark on "Pontillo's" in the 1980s) filed a trademark infringement suit against Batavia Pizza, LLC.
The suit was settled out of court and and the name of the restaurant was changed.
Local sources who have followed the Pontillo's saga immediately speculated that without the ability to use the Pontillo's name, Sam Pontillo wouldn't be long for employment at Batavia's Original.
It's a bit of speculation that Sam, now out of Batavia's Original, doesn't argue against.
"I make no bones about it," Sam said. "I told our management staff that when the owners felt they could do it on their own, they wouldn't need me anymore because there was no longer a Pontillo's name on the sign."
Sam said he was let go three weeks ago because, he said he was told, he wasn't bringing in enough money.
"Of course, at some point about this time, I was due for a pay increase," Pontillo said. "It's a corporate thing. It's a story that's repeated all the time. They're hardcore businessmen."
The Batavian called the real estate investment office of Thomas Masaschi this afternoon and requested an interview. We were told he wasn't available and left a message. The call has not yet been returned.
Sam Pontillo said he isn't rooting against Batavia's Original at all. He said he's proud of the people he hired and trained and believes they will do a great job with the business.
"I think it will go on as long as everybody gets their noses to the grindstone and does what I taught them to do," Sam said. "It will continue to be a great place that employs a lot of kids from the community and continues to serve the community as it has always done."
Sam Pontillo isn't the only Pontillo who takes issue with Batavia's Original trying to trade on the Pontillo's name. Sam's brother John was quite pointed in his remarks this morning.
"They're using my father's face on their menu and it's not right," John said. "I don't think it's very respectful to use a picture of a man who is dead. He hasn't endorsed their business."
John currently operates a pizzeria -- Gio Vanna's -- in Geneseo and was planning to open a shop in the former Pontillo's location in Le Roy.
After paying off back taxes on the property, John said he was planning to buy the building from the estate of Betty Pontillo, but he claims Sam removed the furnace and the hot water heater.
"The building we agreed to buy is not the same building the estate has for sale," John said.
"If he would just look on the roof, there's a practically brand new heating system there," Sam said.
As for hot water, there's still hot water available in the building, Sam said.
He added that he thinks the Le Roy location is a fine building that he cared for meticulously.
"I hope somebody buys it," he said. "It's a great location."
As for Sam's future, it's wide open, he said.
He's looking at options for new businesses from Brooklyn to Albany and even Dubai.
"I'm 52," Sam said. "I figure I'll ride out the next project out until retire. Hopefully it will be rewarding, so I’m just being careful before I move on.
"I'll tell you," he added. "I'm not missing working seven days a week."
Whatever the future, Sam said he doesn't see himself going back in business with his brothers John and Paul. There's just too much water under the bridge after a few years of disagreements.
"It's unfortunate how things worked out," Sam said. "We were all great buddies growing up, but business got in the way and killed those relationships."
But none of what has happened means there won't be a Pontillo's in Genesee County again some day.
"If I could swing it some time and open a Pontillo’s and show the neon sign again in Batavia, it would be a big hit," Sam said.
Even if isn't owned by Sam, he said he's got at least one son, now studying hospitality in college, who might want to operate a Pontillo's some day.
"If that’s what he wants, I'll absolutely go to it and get it done for him," Sam said.
He said he feels he still owns the rights to a Pontillo's business in Genesee County.
Asked if there was anything he wanted to add, Sam thanked his staff and customers.
"You're only as good as people around you," Sam said. "I had a great staff around me. I also just need to thank people of Batavia and Le Roy, where I think I still have a following. It was a pleasure to serve them, it was a ball, it was riot. I will miss the customers. Maybe someday I'll throw a party somewhere and invite them all over."
For previous coverage of Pontillo's, click here.