A local Aurelio’s Pizza franchise operator has been accused of selling counterfeit pizzas at a fundraiser benefiting the girls’ field hockey team.
A lawsuit filed last week by Aurelio’s is Pizza, the restaurant’s parent company based in Homewood, contends that , intentionally committed trademark infringement, dilution and counterfeiting when he contracted with Teresa Food Inc. to make machine-manufacture frozen pizzas with unauthorized ingredients.
The pizzas were then wrongfully sold as Aurelio’s brand pizzas at a Homewood-Flossmoor High School athletic fundraiser on Oct. 7, according to Kirk Mauriello, Aurelio’s director of franchising.
It "hurts our brand because people believe they’re buying an Aurelio’s pizza when, in fact, they’re not,” he said.
Franchise owners are given specific instructions about ingredients, distributors and preparation, which prohibits machine-made pizzas, and “any variation changes the product,” he said.
What’s more, Pascale has been accused of breach of contract because Aurelio’s does not permit the sale of any wholesale frozen pizzas.
After a company investigation, Aurelio’s believes that this is not an isolated incident but consistent with at least six years worth of selling wholesale frozen pizzas to other local sports teams, including a group of gymnasts in Joliet. The lawsuit estimates that Pascale sold more than 100,000 unauthorized pizzas in the last decade.
In federal court, the parent company is seeking financial and punitive damages yet to be specified, a preliminary injunction on selling wholesale pizzas, and a destruction of all labels and products falsely bearing the Aurelio’s trademark.
According to the lawsuit, the parent company caught Pascale selling wholesale frozen pizzas to a local gas station eight years ago, and Pascale promised at the time not to misuse the Aurelio’s trademark again.
Mauriello said the parent company is considering revoking its franchise agreement with Pascale, who also owns a share in Aurelio’s restaurants in New Lenox and Morris.
On Monday, Pascale said he was “blind-sided” by the lawsuit but would need to speak with his attorney and investigate the parent company's claim before commenting further.
Peotone-based Teresa Food, also named in the lawsuit, declined to comment.
In 1959, Joe Aurelio opened the original , which, along with the Richton Park location, remains family-owned. The franchise has since spread to 43 locations in six states.
As for an apology, Mauriello said, the Aurelio’s in Homewood would reach out to the Homewood-Flossmoor High School girls’ field hockey team to host a pizza party and plans to make a donation to the team.