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SoHo Pizza War Sees Famous Ben's Sued by Slice Rival

By Andrea Swalec | March 27, 2013 7:51am

SOHO — Debbie Aliotta has tossed pizza dough and simmered tomato sauce in SoHo for 34 years, but her former business partner is asking a judge to take a bite out of her slice-slinging rights.

In the latest chapter of the New York City pizza wars, the current owner of Famous Ben's Pizza of SoHo has sued the original owner — the widow of Ben himself — claiming she violated an agreement not to compete with the older shop by selling slices at a new place.

He wants her banned from slice selling until November 2016.

In a lawsuit recently filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court, Famous Ben's co-owner John Notaro argues Aliotta, who founded Famous Ben's in 1979 with her late husband, is unfairly competing with his often-packed shop at 177 Spring St. by selling similar slices at Bella Donna Cafe and Pizzeria at 191 Prince St.

"As a result of [Aliotta's] wrongful conduct, [Famous Ben's] has lost substantial business and customers," the suit says.

When Aliotta sold her stake in the business to Notaro in 2011 for $110,000, she agreed not to play any role in a company that "sells individual pizza slices, individual square pizza slices, or round or square pizza pies greater than 12 inches in diameter within a five-block radius of [Famous Ben's]" until November 2014, the lawsuit claims.

But Aliotta said Tuesday afternoon that Notaro "bullied" her into leaving the slice shop and knew when she sold her stake that she had leased space for her business a block away.

"They took something that was originally mine and my husband's and they forced me out," she said. "I'm 59 years old and I don't know what they want from me. They got everything."

Bella Donna, which Aliotta says she opened in August 2011, does sell slices, visits to the shop and its website showed.

Aliotta, a Staten Island resident, said the success of Famous Ben's was built on the recipes her husband, who died in 2003, carried down from his Sicilian parents.

"[Notaro and co-owners John and Ronald Pasquale] don't have one recipe that belongs to them," she said standing near a framed drawing of her husband that hangs inside Bella Donna. "They're my husband's recipes."

Reached at his Mill Basin, Brooklyn eatery Battista Ristorante, Notaro, a Brooklyn resident, declined to speak about the lawsuit.

His lawyer, Susan Mauro, did not immediately respond to an inquiry about how much he is seeking in damages.

Aliotta said in addition to being scared by the threat to her livelihood, she felt betrayed by Notaro, who was close enough to her family that he helped carry her husband's body out of their home after he died.

"They would have never done this to my husband," she said. "And if it had been him who died instead, we wouldn't have done this to his wife."