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Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 9:43 pm

There's no Pontillo left at pizza shop that claims famous family's heritage

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Pontillo's

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.

Sam disagrees.

"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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Photo: Historic Pontillo's sign removed from pizzeria

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Pontillo's

One of Batavia's most historic landmarks, the Pontillo's sign on the pizzeria at the corner of East Main Street and Harvester Avenue, was removed this morning and replaced by a "Batavia's Original Pizzeria" sign.

Three investors from Rochester bought the former Pontillo's location and opened it as Pontillo's in early 2010, but they were served with a trademark infringement suit in September.

In early December, the name of the business was changed to Batavia's Original Pizzeria.

The new sign says Batavia's Original was established in 1947.

The original Pontillo's closed in the fall of 2008 and the property was eventually sold at a foreclosure auction. The Rochester investors purchased the property from the bank that bought it at auction. (Financial history covered in this story.)

Sam Pontillo, son of Salvatore and Elizabeth Pontillo, is manager of Batavia's Original.

The Le Roy Pontillo's location was closed a couple of months ago and Sam Pontillo reportedly removed all of the equipment. His brother, John Pontillo, may be planning to open another pizzeria at that location. John currently operates a pizzeria in Geneseo.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Photo: Neon turned off on Pontillo's, Le Roy location set to close

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Le Roy, Pontillo's

bataviasoriginal01.jpg

One of Batavia's landmark signs has been partially shut off the past few nights, and a new sign has gone up on the historic Pontillo's location. It reads "Batavia's Original."

Meanwhile, an ad in the Le Roy PennySaver this week announced that the Le Roy Pontillo's location will close its doors Thursday. All gift certificates for that location must be used by that date, the ad said.

The owners of the Batavia Pontillo's/Batavia's Original were served with a federal trademark infringement suit in September. There's no word on the status of that lawsuit.

In October, it was disclosed that the Le Roy location is allegedly delinquent in taxes, with $24,261 owed to the county, school district, village and town.  If not paid, the property could go up  for auction in March. UPDATE: County Treasurer Scott German says the property taxes were paid in December.

Sam Pontillo told WBTA that his parent's estate owned a majority share of the Le Roy location.

"I didn't want to be tied to there with the mortgage anymore," Pontillo said. "So, I think it's time for something new for me."

In November 2008, when the Batavia Pontillo's location closed, Sam Pontillo told the Batavia Daily News: "I do not own that one," Sam said, pointing west toward Batavia from the Le Roy Pontillo's. "I own this one."

The estate has been tied up in a protracted lawsuit.

Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Batavia Pontillo's announces name change

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Pontillo's

bataviasorigional.jpg

There are lots of bright lights in Batavia this time of year, but a legendary one has been turned off.

When you drive down Main Street tonight, the familiar green and red neon sign of Pontillo's will be dark.

The restaurant will be open, but under a new name: Batavia's Original.

Earlier this year, the location's new owner, Batavia Pizza, LLC, a creation of Thomas Masaschi, Jeffrey Reddish and Jason Teller out of Rochester, were served with a lawsuit charging trademark infringement by the Pontillo family in Rochester.

No word on the status of the suit.

For our previous coverage of issues related to this Pontillo's location, click here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Photo: Giraffe stuffed by Bill Scheg still mounted in Le Roy Pontillo's

post by Howard B. Owens in Le Roy, Pontillo's

leroygiraf.jpg

In the aftermath of the York Road fire Saturday, a reader mentioned that homeowner and taxidermist Bill Scheg had once stuffed a giraffe that had died while in a parade in Le Roy.

To answer one of the questions that came up, I stopped into Pontillo's while I was in Le Roy today to see if it is still there -- it is.

Friday, October 22, 2010 at 11:38 am

Le Roy Pontillo's location among properties facing tax foreclosure

post by Howard B. Owens in business, genesee county, Le Roy, Pontillo's, taxes

Foreclosure proceedings have begun against 68 county properties because of unpaid taxes, including the Le Roy Pontillo's location, according to County Treasurer Scott German.

Pontillo's owes for three years of back taxes, including school, town, village and county, totaling $24,261.

The delinquent property owners have until Jan. 14 to make final payment on their back taxes to avoid having the property sold at auction.

The auction will be scheduled for some time in March or April.

German said typically, 50 to 55 of the property owners will settle their tax issues prior to foreclosure.

All of the property owners have been sent letters, and notices have been published in two daily newspapers, with additional notifications pending.

Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 12:06 am

Trademark infringement suit filed against owners of Batavia Pontillo's

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Pontillo's

Three Monroe County businessmen who bought the former Pontillo's location on East Main Street, Batavia, and reopened the legendary location as "Pontillo's" have drawn the ire of the Rochester wing of the Pontillo's family.

pontillos_corner.jpgPontillo's Family Pizza, Inc., led by David Pontillo, nephew and son of the Pontillo's founders, has filed a trademark infringement suit against Batavia Pizza, LLC, owned by Thomas Masaschi, Jeffrey Reddish and Jason Teller.

The trio bought the 500 E. Main Street building and land late in 2009 from a firm that had acquired it in foreclosure. Then they reopened it as Pontillo's Pizzeria in April, hiring one of Salvatore Pontillo's son's, Sam Pontillo, to manage it.

Pontillo's Family Pizza, which overseas the operations of more than a dozen Pontillo's locations in the Rochester area, is claiming that Batavia Pizza never asked for, nor received, permission to use the Pontillo's name.

David's father, Anthony Pontillo, brother of Salvatore, filed for and received a federally registered trademark for "Pontillo's" in 1984.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for damaged business reputation, as well as all revenue and any profits of the new Batavia Pontillo's, plus any damages that might be awarded at trial, plus attorney's fees.

The suit also seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction against Batavia Pizza prohibiting the use of the Pontillo's name by the ownership group.

The Pontillo brothers founded one of the first post-war pizzerias in the United States in Batavia in 1947, and a few years later, Anthony headed out for Rochester to start a chain of pizzerias under the same name.

According to John and Paul Pontillo, there was an agreement between families not to infringe on each other's territory so long as Pontlllo's remained a family business.

In the lawsuit, Pontillo's Family Pizza contends that contrary to an early presentation by the Monroe County businessmen, Sam Pontillo, is not a partner in Batavia Pizza, and even if he were, Pontillo's Family Pizza would not have given him permission to use the Pontillo's trade name in a re-established Batavia enterprise.

"Because of his tax problems, Pontillo's Family Pizza, Inc., will not give Mr. Sam C. Pontillo the right to use PONTILLO'S to operate a pizzeria," reads a letter dated June 18 and written by attorney Stephan B. Salai to an attorney representing Masaschi and his partners.

It was one of two letters the ownership group received from the Rochester Pontillo's demanding that Masaschi and his partners stop using the Pontillo's name.

Sam and Paul Pontillo were operating the Batavia location when mounting debts and tax bills apparently forced them to close the store in November 2008. John Pontillo had also been involved in the operation at one time, and all three brother's dispute just how the family business fell into failure.

Sam has continued to operate the Le Roy Pontillo's, though John has made attempts to acquire it.

There is a pending lawsuit filed by the estate of Elizabeth Pontillo against Sam and Paul.

Previously:

Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Motions denied in Pontillo's lawsuit

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Pontillo's

A series of motions filed by the estate of Elizabeth Pontillo seeking money and property from Sam and Paul Pontillo was dismissed by County Court Judge Robert C. Noonan on June 30.

pontillos_corner.jpg"Nonetheless, the instant motion will be denied in its entirety for want of a clear and convincing demonstration of either a likelihood of ultimate success on the merits, the prospect of irreparable injury or a balancing of the equities in a plaintiff's favor," Noonan wrote in his decision. "Accordingly, the Plaintiff's Motion is hereby denied, and the temporary restraining order previously granted is hereby vacated."

It's unclear how this ruling impacts the lawsuit filed against the Sam and Paul by the estate.

Brian Degnan, attorney for the estate, could not be reached this afternoon, and Sam Pontillo's attorney, Reid Whiting, refused to come to the phone.

Degnan filed motions in June requesting Sam Pontillo not be allowed to remove equipment or enter the property of the Pontillo's in Le Roy, that he return all business equipment taken, and that he pay back rents, taxes and profits associated with the Le Roy location.

The estate, being administered by John Forsyth, also sought back rent from Paul Pontillo for the time he was living at 64 Vernon Ave., Batavia, the former residence of his parents, and an accounting of various items believed to be in the house at one time.

In his answer to the motion, Whiting accused Forsyth of a conflict of interest and a lack of good faith in dealing with Sam Pontillo.

In an answering affidavit, Sam Pontillo says that as accountant for the various Pontillo's businesses in Genesee County, he had access to financial information and other company secrets, "many of which he is now using in a selective manner to the detriment of defendants. As such, he has an obvious conflict of interest as a litigant."

Sam also notes, to his "amazement," John Pontillo was not sued by the estate, despite being involved in the business operations at one time.

He accuses John and Paul of mismanaging the "'goose that laid the golden egg' to the point of insolvency and desperate need for a subprime mortgage."

"He (John) was personally and highly involved in the demise of the Batavia store and its foreclosure," Sam writes.  

He accused John of removing a seven-ton HVAC unit from the Batavia location.

"John was an officer and manager of the Batavia store for a substantial time during which it failed to pay sales tax, payroll taxes and real property taxes and numerous suppliers," according to Sam.

One of the chief financial decisions that led to loss of the Batavia store, based The Batavian's previous reporting of this story, was taking out a mortgage on the property in November 2008. Sam Pontillo states that he "adamantly opposed" his mother's execution of the mortgage, "particularly at the exorbitant rate of 16 percent."

"Paul and John, not just Paul, have a lot to explain about the demise of that business," Sam writes.

As for the property Forsyth claimed belonged to the estate, Sam Pontillo provide copies of checks showing that he spent about $20,000 on the equipment, out of his own business entity, Le Roy Dough Boys, Inc.

Sam Pontillo also accuses John Forsyth of not answering his offers to buy the Le Roy Store or a proposed lease on the property.

As part of the lawsuit, the estate has sought some $50,000 in back rent from San Pontillo for the Le Roy location. The back rent is calculated at $2,500 per month. An affidavit from Daniel K. O'Shea, who says he's a lifelong resident of Le Roy, and an owner of downtown village property, says there is no property in the village worth more than $1,000 per month and the total estimated value of the Le Roy location is $100,000.

Sam states that even though he was never associated with Sam's Tomato Pies, either as employee, shareholder or director, the IRS has placed a lien on the home owned solely by his wife in Albany in an attempt to collect back taxes from the corporation.

"Plaintiffs and my brothers are lashing out at me without any factual or legal justification," Sam writes. "I suspect they are solely motivated by the base emotion of envy as a result of the position I secured with the new owners of the Batavia store

"As manager of the Batavia pizzeria, opened on April 6, 2010, I am not in competition with the Pontillo Family Partnership or the estate. I am merely earning a just living to support my wife and three sons, despite the shabby obstacles plaintiffs and my brothers have tried to place in my path."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Dave's Produce has barely survived the alleged bad debt from Pontillo's

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Dave's Produce, Pontillo's

kathy01.jpg

Kathy Pettinella says in November 2008, she almost lost her business -- a business started and built by her late husband and late son 15 years ago.

Her business, Dave's Produce, relies on cash in the bank so she can buy product at farmers' markets and deliver it to local restaurants.

So when one local restaurant allegedly stiffed her for nearly $70,000, it really hurt.

"Oh, my God -- I am done. I’m absolutely done." Pettinella said were her first thoughts when she learned of the original Pontillo's Pizzeria closing. "Looking at all that money, I went through all my bank statements, my deposit slips, I was in trouble. I couldn’t cut back anything anymore out of my household budget."

How and why Pontillo's was allegedly able to run up all that debt is something Kathy still can't fully explain, but until last week, when The Batavian wrote about the debt in a story on  financial issues surrounding the Pontillo family and their legendary pizza business, she said nobody in Batavia knew about the debt. It was something she wanted to keep secret.

She said she was shaking the first time she answered a call from The Batavian asking about the debt.

"I was petrified," Pettinella said of her long-standing fear of people finding out about the debt. "I was was afraid people would think, ‘What a stupid woman. That’s why women don’t run businesses because they would drive it into the ground.'"

"That was my initial thought -- that I just made a bad example for the rest of women who are working so hard to run their own small businesses."

Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Pontillo v. Pontillo opens window on finances of legendary family business

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Pontillo's

pontillos_corner.jpg

Staggering debts -- to the government, bankers and suppliers -- appear to be what led to the closing of Batavia's most legendary pizzeria in November 2008.

At the time the restaurant closed, suppliers were possibly owed in the neighborhood of $220,000, according to a document obtained by The Batavian. In addition to those debts, there were unpaid mortgages exceeding $354,000 and taxes of more than $250,000 due. 

Many of these debts, outside of the mortgage, which was amply paid off in foreclosure proceedings, appear to be unsettled to this day, including more than $10,000 owed to a local funeral home that handled arrangements for Elizabeth "Betty" Pontillo following her death on Aug. 5, 2008.

In total, debts associated either with Pontillo's Pizzeria at 500 E. Main St., Batavia, or with Betty's estate, exceeded $850,000.

Disputes over those debts -- how they occurred, who is responsible, and who allegedly stole what or lied to whom -- has pitted brother against brother in the Pontillo family.

John and Paul have harsh words for Sam, and Sam isn't talking, but in previous news articles, he hasn't necessarily been kind to his siblings.

John, Paul and Sam are the sole surviving children of Salvatore ("Sam" Sr.) and Betty Pontillo (Daniel Pontillo died in 1957 and Elizabeth Mullen died in 2003; her son, John Mullen, is an heir to the estate).

Salvatore founded Pontillo's Pizzeria in Batavia with his brothers in 1947. It inspired scores of other pizzerias, including a chain founded by Salvatore's brother, Anthony, in Rochester that bears the Pontillo's name.  

Last week, Sam, working with business associates from Rochester, opened a Pontillo's Pizzeria at the old Batavia location.

Both John and Paul say they resent how Sam is being seen as some kind of hero in Batavia when he's the one who brought down, according to them, the original Pontillo's, especially when, according to John, Sam cheated a number of local business owners out of tens of thousands of dollars.

Even as Sam enjoys a busy opening week, he faces the possible loss of the Le Roy location. Genesee County records show property taxes on those parcels haven't been paid in nearly three years. According to County Treasurer Scott German, foreclosure procedures could start on July 1 if the debts remain outstanding.

It's also not clear if the new owners of Pontillo's Pizzeria in Batavia can legally operate a restaurant under that name. The federal trademark for "Pontillo's" is owned by the estate of Anthony Pontillo, but both John and Paul contend that rights to the name in Batavia are still owned by the estate of Betty Pontillo. 

Whether Sam is part owner in the new business is also unclear. John said Sam has represented himself as a part owner; Paul is convinced Sam is nothing more than a salaried employee.

Tom Masaschi, a Rochester developer who purchased the Batavia Pontillo's location for $400,000 last December, and is reportedly one of the investors in the new business, has not returned calls to The Batavian.

On Sunday, when told John and Paul had spoken with The Batavian, Sam declined an interview request for the third time.

"It's been a long 15 months," said a broadly smiling Sam as he stood at the walk-in counter of the Batavia Pontillo's, which was packed with customers. "I'm only looking forward now."

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