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    Monday, December 11, 2023

    What's in a name? Mystic Pizza targets alleged copycat

    Patrons wait in line Aug. 3, 2013, outside of Mystic Pizza, as tourists enjoy the sights and sounds in downtown Mystic. John and Christos Zelepos, owners of the famed restaurant Mystic Pizza, have sued a restaurant of the same name in a Philadelphia, Pa., suburb, alleging cybersquatting, trademark infringement and trademark dilution. (Tim Cook/The Day)
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    John and Christos Zelepos, owners of the famed restaurant Mystic Pizza, have sued a restaurant of the same name in a Philadelphia suburb.

    They have sued Antonio and Helder Marques of Mystic Pizza Company in North Wales, Pa. Their website is mysticpizzeria.com and their logo says Mystic Pizzeria, but other parts of the website — and the restaurant's sign — use the name Mystic Pizza.

    A complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is for cybersquatting, trademark infringement and unfair competition and trademark dilution.

    It alleges that Mystic Pizzeria is "attempting to confuse" customers of Mystic Pizza and to falsely suggest that Mystic Pizzeria is the Pennsylvania location of the Connecticut pizza shops.

    The complaint was filed on Feb. 28 and first reported on by The Morning Call, a daily newspaper based in Allentown, Pa. At issue is the Connecticut restaurant's trademark, referred to throughout the lawsuit as the "Mystic Pizza Marks."

    This isn't the first time Mystic Pizza has sued over this issue.

    The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act states that a person shall be liable in a civil action if they have a "bad faith intent to profit from the mark," and in the case of a famous mark like that of Mystic Pizza, use a domain name that is "identical or confusingly similar to or dilutive of that mark."

    Dilution means that the association "impairs the distinctiveness" of a famous name.

    The original Mystic Pizza has existed since 1973, and the restaurant inspired screenwriter Amy Holden Jones to use Mystic Pizza as the setting for the eponymous movie, which was released in 1988 and was the breakout film for Julia Roberts.

    Consequently, Mystic Pizza became a popular spot for tourists to eat and take pictures. The restaurant and the movie share the same font stylization for the logo, while the logo for Mystic Pizzeria in North Wales is distinct.

    The website for the latter says it has served the community for more than 20 years, and the Pennsylvania Department of State lists Aug. 18, 1993, as the creation date of the Mystic Pizza Company corporation.

    In 1998, the Zelepos family opened Mystic Pizza II in North Stonington, and the complaint states they have plans for further expansion.

    Mystic Pizza LLC requests a temporary and permanent injunction prohibiting Mystic Pizzeria from "using the Mystic Pizza Mark(s) or confusingly similar versions," and an injunction requiring the North Wales restaurant to transfer "identical or confusingly similar" domain names, including but not limited to mysticpizzeria.com.

    The complaint also seeks damages, in an amount proven sufficient at trial.

    It alleges that Mystic Pizza LLC requested the defendants to stop their "infringing conduct" but that Mystic Pizzeria's conduct has "continued and increased."

    Mystic Pizzeria does not have a presence on social media, and reviews left on Facebook and Yelp make no mention of either the movie or the Connecticut restaurants.

    The Day called each restaurant seeking further comment and left a message with an employee, but did not receive a call back from the owner of either.

    Carol Steinour Young, the Harrisburg-based attorney representing Mystic Pizza, did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday, and there is no attorney listed in the federal court system for Mystic Pizzeria.

    In August 2012, Mystic Pizza LLC filed suit against the former Pizza Grille at 39 Whitehall Ave. Their issue was The Pizza Grille's use of the domain name mysticpizzagrille.com; the complaint said that the addition of the word "grille" to the first two "does nothing to dispel the obvious confusion created by the prominent use of Plaintiffs' Mystic Pizza Marks."

    The Zeleposes that December submitted notice of voluntary dismissal with prejudice, noting that the parties agreed on a settlement.

    New owners took over The Pizza Grille in 2015 and reopened it as Antonio's Ristorante & Bar, which has since closed. The address is now home to Christo's Pizza.

    The domain name mysticpizzagrille.com now redirects to mysticpizza.com.

    Mystic Pizza has been on the other side of legal issues in the past. John Zelepos was sentenced in 2015 to a year in prison for tax evasion, and the year before, the restaurant was ordered to pay $105,000 to 110 workers for not complying with minimum wage and overtime laws.


    The eatery's iconic slogan shines in neon July 20, 2012, over the bar at Mystic Pizza on West Main Street in downtown Mystic. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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