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Sneaky Pizzerias in New Zealand, Florida Stole My Eatery's Name, Owner Says

By Maya Rajamani | August 23, 2017 12:53pm
 Capizzi at 547 Ninth Ave., between West 40th and 41st streets.
Capizzi at 547 Ninth Ave., between West 40th and 41st streets.
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DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani

HELL'S KITCHEN — They're stealing a slice of his pie.

A sit-down restaurant halfway across the world ripped off a Ninth Avenue pizzeria’s name and concept — all the way down to its logo — while another in Florida is also sneakily using the trademarked label, the owner claims.

For the past decade, Joe Calcagno has served up brick-oven pizza and Italian food at his small eatery Capizzi at 547 Ninth Ave., between West 40th and 41st streets, across from the Port Authority

The restaurant is named after the town in Italy where his mother and grandmother were born, Calcagno told DNAinfo New York.

“Capizzi

A view inside Capizzi on Ninth Avenue (DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani)

So, it came as a shock when Calcagno learned a New Zealand eatery called Capizzi Pizzeria has been serving up handmade, wood-fired pizzas in a city called Rotorua.

“A customer that comes in all the time said, ‘Oh, yeah, my friend who’s an attorney, I brought him in here, and his brother just opened a pizzeria [in New Zealand],’” explained Calcagno, who trademarked the Capizzi name in 2012, according to United States Patent and Trademark Office records.  

When the customer sent him photos of the restaurant, Calcagno discovered the eatery not only touts pizzas made with “the highest quality ingredients” — just as the Ninth Avenue Capizzi does — but also uses a logo nearly identical to his.

An image of the New Zealand pizzeria from 2013 backs up Calcagno's claim.

A view of the Capizzi Pizzeria in Rotorua, New Zealand from March 2013. (Credit: Google Maps)

The New Zealand Capizzi didn’t immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday.

To add insult to injury, Calcagno discovered last week that a takeout-only pizzeria in Orlando, Florida, has also been using the Capizzi name, though it doesn’t appear that that outpost and the New Zealand one are affiliated in any way.

The Orlando pizzeria, which is listed on Yelp as Otto Pizzeria, has changed its name several times, but is still "giving us a bad reputation," Calcagno said.

“Come to find out, there’s a guy in Orlando, Florida, who I hear is a real shyster, [and is] doing a terrible job,” he said.

He heard about the knock-off when patrons who had visited Orlando mentioned seeing a Capizzi there, while offering less-than-favorable reviews of the eatery, he said.

Several Yelp reviewers have pointed out the name changes, with one claiming the eatery dumps its old names “whenever they get poor reviews.”

An employee who answered the phone at Otto Pizzeria on Tuesday confirmed the restaurant does go by the name Capizzi, but deferred to the manager for comment on Calcagno’s allegations.

The manager wasn’t available for comment Tuesday.

“It’s so frustrating, to say the least — we put so much pride in what we do,” said Calcagno, whose pizzeria has won awards and counts fans like Jerry Seinfeld.

The rogue eateries that have cropped up are damaging the Capizzi name in a way the owner always feared when approached about franchising his restaurant.

“We’ve been offered many, many times — people come into the restaurant, they fall in love with the concept, they say, ‘Why don’t you franchise this, why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that?’” said Calcagno, who also owns a second Capizzi outpost in Staten Island.

“We really didn’t want to franchise, because we don’t want to lose control, and we don’t want to ruin our name. We’re just not ready for it yet,” he explained.

When Calcagno trademarked the Capizzi name, he only registered it in the U.S., so it may not be possible to take legal action against the New Zealand eatery, he acknowledged. 

“I was foolish not to do an international trademark,” he said.

He does, however, plan to have his attorney send a cease-and-desist letter to the Orlando eatery once he has more information.

Calcagno — who designed the original Capizzi to feel like a “homey” kitchen for New York City patrons who lacked a kitchen large enough to sit down and eat in themselves — said he “didn’t have the words” to describe his feelings about his restaurant’s name being used without permission.

“There’s a lot of emotions attached to the whole concept, and when you steal the name, it really does hurt,” he said.

“It’s not just a name I picked out of a hat.”