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Pizza makers head to court over name

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Dueling Vincents are headed to federal court in a fight over pizza, with the inventor of the famed "Vinnie Pie," a Pittsburgh icon, claiming an interloper is stealing his name and his profits at PNC Park and elsewhere.

Vincent's Pizza Park, a Forest Hills landmark for pizza lovers since the 1950s, yesterday filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the owner of Vincent's Pizza Pub of Greentree, which the original Vincent says is capitalizing on his reputation while selling an inferior product.

The lawsuit pits Vincent Chianese, the longtime owner of Vincent's Pizza Park on Ardmore Boulevard in Forest Hills and on New Texas Road in Plum, against Vincent Abbato, owner of Tavap Inc., of Mansfield Avenue in Green Tree.

Tavap does business as Vincent's Pizza Pub, or a variation of that name, in Green Tree and Scott, but its most prominent location is at PNC Park.

Neither Vincent could be reached yesterday for comment, but the ballpark restaurant is at the root of the dispute.

Although Abbato operated throughout the 1990s using the Vincent name, Frederick Ziesenheim, lawyer for Chianese, said the 2001 opening of the ballpark restaurant meant many more customers were suddenly exposed to what they thought was the original Vincent's.

That has caused "extreme confusion" among the public, the lawsuit says, especially since "many of these patrons have also complained to Vincent's Pizza about the comparable lack of quality of the pizza served by defendant."

The confusion is such that even America Online got mixed up, once describing the home of the Vinnie Pie on its "AOL Weekender" Web site but then providing the Mansfield Avenue address of the rival company.

And when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last year that Vincent's Pizza was now available at PNC Park, the newspaper had to run a correction saying the paper should have included the word "Pub" to avoid confusion.

Ziesenheim said the PNC Park restaurant, which has a neon sign identifying it as "Vincent's Pizza Pub of Greentree," is deliberately trying to deceive patrons.

" 'Vincent's' is in giant letters," he said, "and 'Greentree' is rather obscure. The attempt to pass off the goods is, we believe, pretty clear. I don't see an effort made at all to tell the public that this isn't the Vincent's of Forest Hills."

Complicating the issue, however, is the fact that the Vincent's Pizza trademark expired after the PNC Park restaurant opened. Chianese registered the name in 1991, but according to the lawsuit, the trademark was canceled in 1998 because Chianese didn't file a document called an "affidavit of continued use." Pennsylvania State Department records list the name as "withdrawn."

Ziesenheim, who is not Chianese's regular attorney, said he didn't know why the affidavit wasn't filed.

"I'm sure it was an oversight," he said. "I'll have to deal with that."

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