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Batavia's Original replacing 30-year-old booths from Pontillo's and many long-time customers eager to buy them

By Howard B. Owens


People are lining up to buy a bit of Pontillo's history -- the custom-made, red, white and green booth seats that were first installed in the restaurant 30 years ago.

Batavia's Original owner Kathy Ferrara announced her plans to sell the booth seats and she immediately received several requests from would-be purchasers. She hasn't made any commitments yet. She's waiting for the replacement booths, which will be all black, to come in next week.

"I didn’t realize it would be such a big deal to people," Ferrara said.

A number of people expressed concern that she was selling Sam and Betty's booth, the one they always sat in, but it's not for sale and will stay in the restaurant, she said.

She's only selling the ones in the larger dining room. She said she remembers when that dining room opened. She had just started working as a server for Pontillo's and the new booths were installed before even the rest of the trim of the room was completed.

Batavia's Original owner celebrates 30 years of doing what she's loved

By Howard B. Owens


Thirty years ago, Kathy Ferrara walked into Pontillo's thinking she was just taking a job to help her get through college at GCC.

She never left.

Today she is the owner of the successor to Pontillo's, Batavia's Original.

On Wednesday, she celebrated that 30th anniversary with friends, customers and employees.

"I loved it from day one," Ferrara said. "I look back and I wouldn’t have changed any of it. It was a great environment. I made lots of friends through customers, employees, hundreds of friendships."

Now, she says, she's just doing what she was taught by the Pontillos to do -- take care of employees and serve the community.

"I have pride and it’s humbling, both at the same time — to carry on the tradition of hiring students, college students and high school students, and watching them come through and seeing them make friendships here, just like I had when I was starting out."

Batavia's Original, formerly Pontillo's, returns to local ownership

By Howard B. Owens


As friends and customers have found out her plans, people have told Kathy Ferrara, "This must have been your dream all along" -- becoming owner of Batavia's Original.

That's not the case, said Ferrara yesterday, hours after closing a deal with the previous owner, Jeff Reddish, of Rochester, to buy the popular local restaurant.

"I never planned on buying it," Ferrara said. "I just enjoyed what I did. I did it 100 percent. I was trustworthy. This wasn’t my plan. It was definitely that God wanted me here. I’ve tried leaving a couple of times and He made it really clear that this is where I’m supposed to be. He made this happen so only good things are going to come from that."

Before Batavia's Original was Batavia's Original, it was Pontillo's, Batavia's first pizza parlor, and Ferrara started working for Sam and Betty Pontillo 29 years ago as a waitress.

Sam and Betty, she said, took her under their wings and taught her the pizza business from top to bottom. She was trained in every job in the restaurant.

By the time Sam and Betty's sons took over, she was a manager.  

When that business collapsed in 2010, Ferrara was the one who broke the news to the staff.

When Reddish bought the business and the building at 500 E. Main St. out of bankruptcy, it was Ferrara that Reddish called to run the business.

"Jeff Reddish taught me the ins and outs of the business," Ferrara said. "He taught me how to make payroll and meet food costs together. He was a good teacher. He was great to work for, a really good boss, fair, basically let me do things the way we've been doing all these years."

Earlier this year, Ferrara asked Reddish, who owns restaurants in Rochester, if she could become a partner in the Batavia location.

"He wasn’t looking to sell," Ferrara said. "He wasn’t going to put it on the market. That wasn’t in his plan at all. I approached him and he said ‘I’m not looking to sell, but I would sell it to you.’ He’s the one who got the ball rolling and made it happen.”

Ferrara is a graduate of Pembroke High School and Genesee Community College. She is married with three children, Ashley, Mary-Grace, and Daniel, and one grandson.

Local ownership of the restaurant is important to Ferrara, she said. She will have more control over local promotions, support of local charities and organizations, and who she hires as vendors.

"Now that it is locally owned again, that makes a big difference," Ferrara said. "Everybody I’ve dealt with so far, the website designer, maintenance, plumbers, they’re all local. So everything is back local, in Genesee County, so that only helps the community."

She will keep the name, Batavia's Original, picked after Reddish learned he couldn't retain the name Pontillo's. Ferrara said it only makes sense.

"This is the original pizza of Batavia," she said. "It’s the same recipe. We haven’t changed any of the recipes."

The return of Pontillo's/Batavia's Original to local ownership will be celebrated with a ribbon cutting at noon on Saturday.

Ferrara said she will also continue Sam and Betty's tradition of taking good care of the staff and ensuring restaurant guests get great service.

"Everybody is treated fairly," Ferrara said. "It’s a fun environment to work. I always work around their schedules. The staff is mostly college students and high schoolers."

Being able to do more for the staff of 35 employees is another reason Ferrara was motivated to buy the business, she said. Taking care of employees pays off in better customer service.

"Anybody who comes here to eat will always leave with a good experience," Ferrara said. "Everyone who works here gives 100 percent. I get compliments all day long about the staff. People say they look like they love it here and they do. That’s something the Pontillos taught me, is how to treat the staff. Sam and Betty treated everybody like family."

Photos by Steve Ognibene.


There's no Pontillo left at pizza shop that claims famous family's heritage

By Howard B. Owens

There's a pizza joint in town that calls itself "Batavia's Original" and claims it was established in 1947, but whatever claim the shop has to a once legendary local pizzeria was lost three weeks ago when the company fired its manager, Sam Pontillo.

Pontillo helped a group of Rochester investors open the pizzeria at 500 E. Main St., Batavia, in a building that was once home to a Pontillo's restaurant owned and operated by Sam's parents, Sal and Betty Pontillo. 

Sal, more commonly known as Sam, with his brother Anthony, opened the original Pontillo's at the corner of Liberty and Ellicott streets in 1947. The original Pontillo's was the first pizzeria in Batavia and helped create a new pizzeria industry in Western New York.

Sam Pontillo says it's time for the Rochester-based owners to stop trading on his family's name.

Besides the claim to being established in 1947, the restaurant's menu also has a picture of Sal Pontillo right in the middle of it (pictured above).

"It (the menu picture) should come off now," Sam said. "There's no Pontillo involved and we’re not getting residual from it. They're going to milk it for as long as they can, but they should do the stand-up thing and remove it."

"As for the 1947," Sam added, "how can they really use it? There’s a family attachment to 1947. I’m sure some lawyer will say it’s just a number, but it’s a significant number to my family."

Batavia's Original is a DBA of Batavia Pizza, LLC, a creation of Thomas Masaschi, Jeffrey Reddish and Jason Teller.

The Rochester-based group acquired the 500 E. Main St. location in 2009 after a bank foreclosed on the property.

The owners then hired Sam, who still operated the Pontillo's location in Le Roy, as the new shop's general manager and opened as Pontillo's in April 2010.

A few months later, Anthony Pontillo's heirs (Anthony filed for a federal trademark on "Pontillo's" in the 1980s) filed a trademark infringement suit against Batavia Pizza, LLC.

The suit was settled out of court and and the name of the restaurant was changed.

Local sources who have followed the Pontillo's saga immediately speculated that without the ability to use the Pontillo's name, Sam Pontillo wouldn't be long for employment at Batavia's Original.

It's a bit of speculation that Sam, now out of Batavia's Original, doesn't argue against.

"I make no bones about it," Sam said. "I told our management staff that when the owners felt they could do it on their own, they wouldn't need me anymore because there was no longer a Pontillo's name on the sign."

Sam said he was let go three weeks ago because, he said he was told, he wasn't bringing in enough money.

"Of course, at some point about this time, I was due for a pay increase," Pontillo said. "It's a corporate thing. It's a story that's repeated all the time. They're hardcore businessmen."

The Batavian called the real estate investment office of Thomas Masaschi this afternoon and requested an interview. We were told he wasn't available and left a message. The call has not yet been returned.

Sam Pontillo said he isn't rooting against Batavia's Original at all. He said he's proud of the people he hired and trained and believes they will do a great job with the business.

"I think it will go on as long as everybody gets their noses to the grindstone and does what I taught them to do," Sam said. "It will continue to be a great place that employs a lot of kids from the community and continues to serve the community as it has always done." 

Sam Pontillo isn't the only Pontillo who takes issue with Batavia's Original trying to trade on the Pontillo's name. Sam's brother John was quite pointed in his remarks this morning.

"They're using my father's face on their menu and it's not right," John said. "I don't think it's very respectful to use a picture of a man who is dead. He hasn't endorsed their business."

John currently operates a pizzeria -- Gio Vanna's -- in Geneseo and was planning to open a shop in the former Pontillo's location in Le Roy.

After paying off back taxes on the property, John said he was planning to buy the building from the estate of Betty Pontillo, but he claims Sam removed the furnace and the hot water heater.

"The building we agreed to buy is not the same building the estate has for sale," John said.

Sam disagrees.

"If he would just look on the roof, there's a practically brand new heating system there," Sam said.

As for hot water, there's still hot water available in the building, Sam said.

He added that he thinks the Le Roy location is a fine building that he cared for meticulously.

"I hope somebody buys it," he said. "It's a great location."

As for Sam's future, it's wide open, he said.

He's looking at options for new businesses from Brooklyn to Albany and even Dubai.

"I'm 52," Sam said. "I figure I'll ride out the next project out until retire. Hopefully it will be rewarding, so I’m just being careful before I move on. 

"I'll tell you," he added. "I'm not missing working seven days a week."

Whatever the future, Sam said he doesn't see himself going back in business with his brothers John and Paul. There's just too much water under the bridge after a few years of disagreements.

"It's unfortunate how things worked out," Sam said. "We were all great buddies growing up, but business got in the way and killed those relationships."

But none of what has happened means there won't be a Pontillo's in Genesee County again some day.

"If I could swing it some time and open a Pontillo’s and show the neon sign again in Batavia, it would be a big hit," Sam said.

Even if isn't owned by Sam, he said he's got at least one son, now studying hospitality in college, who might want to operate a Pontillo's some day.

"If that’s what he wants, I'll absolutely go to it and get it done for him," Sam said.

He said he feels he still owns the rights to a Pontillo's business in Genesee County.

Asked if there was anything he wanted to add, Sam thanked his staff and customers.

"You're only as good as people around you," Sam said. "I had a great staff around me. I also just need to thank people of Batavia and Le Roy, where I think I still have a following. It was a pleasure to serve them, it was a ball, it was riot. I will miss the customers. Maybe someday I'll throw a party somewhere and invite them all over." 

For previous coverage of Pontillo's, click here.

Photo: Historic Pontillo's sign removed from pizzeria

By Howard B. Owens

One of Batavia's most historic landmarks, the Pontillo's sign on the pizzeria at the corner of East Main Street and Harvester Avenue, was removed this morning and replaced by a "Batavia's Original Pizzeria" sign.

Three investors from Rochester bought the former Pontillo's location and opened it as Pontillo's in early 2010, but they were served with a trademark infringement suit in September.

In early December, the name of the business was changed to Batavia's Original Pizzeria.

The new sign says Batavia's Original was established in 1947.

The original Pontillo's closed in the fall of 2008 and the property was eventually sold at a foreclosure auction. The Rochester investors purchased the property from the bank that bought it at auction. (Financial history covered in this story.)

Sam Pontillo, son of Salvatore and Elizabeth Pontillo, is manager of Batavia's Original.

The Le Roy Pontillo's location was closed a couple of months ago and Sam Pontillo reportedly removed all of the equipment. His brother, John Pontillo, may be planning to open another pizzeria at that location. John currently operates a pizzeria in Geneseo.

Photo: Neon turned off on Pontillo's, Le Roy location set to close

By Howard B. Owens

One of Batavia's landmark signs has been partially shut off the past few nights, and a new sign has gone up on the historic Pontillo's location. It reads "Batavia's Original."

Meanwhile, an ad in the Le Roy PennySaver this week announced that the Le Roy Pontillo's location will close its doors Thursday. All gift certificates for that location must be used by that date, the ad said.

The owners of the Batavia Pontillo's/Batavia's Original were served with a federal trademark infringement suit in September. There's no word on the status of that lawsuit.

In October, it was disclosed that the Le Roy location is allegedly delinquent in taxes, with $24,261 owed to the county, school district, village and town.  If not paid, the property could go up  for auction in March. UPDATE: County Treasurer Scott German says the property taxes were paid in December.

Sam Pontillo told WBTA that his parent's estate owned a majority share of the Le Roy location.

"I didn't want to be tied to there with the mortgage anymore," Pontillo said. "So, I think it's time for something new for me."

In November 2008, when the Batavia Pontillo's location closed, Sam Pontillo told the Batavia Daily News: "I do not own that one," Sam said, pointing west toward Batavia from the Le Roy Pontillo's. "I own this one."

The estate has been tied up in a protracted lawsuit.

Batavia Pontillo's announces name change

By Howard B. Owens

There are lots of bright lights in Batavia this time of year, but a legendary one has been turned off.

When you drive down Main Street tonight, the familiar green and red neon sign of Pontillo's will be dark.

The restaurant will be open, but under a new name: Batavia's Original.

Earlier this year, the location's new owner, Batavia Pizza, LLC, a creation of Thomas Masaschi, Jeffrey Reddish and Jason Teller out of Rochester, were served with a lawsuit charging trademark infringement by the Pontillo family in Rochester.

No word on the status of the suit.

For our previous coverage of issues related to this Pontillo's location, click here.

Le Roy Pontillo's location among properties facing tax foreclosure

By Howard B. Owens

Foreclosure proceedings have begun against 68 county properties because of unpaid taxes, including the Le Roy Pontillo's location, according to County Treasurer Scott German.

Pontillo's owes for three years of back taxes, including school, town, village and county, totaling $24,261.

The delinquent property owners have until Jan. 14 to make final payment on their back taxes to avoid having the property sold at auction.

The auction will be scheduled for some time in March or April.

German said typically, 50 to 55 of the property owners will settle their tax issues prior to foreclosure.

All of the property owners have been sent letters, and notices have been published in two daily newspapers, with additional notifications pending.

Trademark infringement suit filed against owners of Batavia Pontillo's

By Howard B. Owens

Three Monroe County businessmen who bought the former Pontillo's location on East Main Street, Batavia, and reopened the legendary location as "Pontillo's" have drawn the ire of the Rochester wing of the Pontillo's family.

Pontillo's Family Pizza, Inc., led by David Pontillo, nephew and son of the Pontillo's founders, has filed a trademark infringement suit against Batavia Pizza, LLC, owned by Thomas Masaschi, Jeffrey Reddish and Jason Teller.

The trio bought the 500 E. Main Street building and land late in 2009 from a firm that had acquired it in foreclosure. Then they reopened it as Pontillo's Pizzeria in April, hiring one of Salvatore Pontillo's son's, Sam Pontillo, to manage it.

Pontillo's Family Pizza, which overseas the operations of more than a dozen Pontillo's locations in the Rochester area, is claiming that Batavia Pizza never asked for, nor received, permission to use the Pontillo's name.

David's father, Anthony Pontillo, brother of Salvatore, filed for and received a federally registered trademark for "Pontillo's" in 1984.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for damaged business reputation, as well as all revenue and any profits of the new Batavia Pontillo's, plus any damages that might be awarded at trial, plus attorney's fees.

The suit also seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction against Batavia Pizza prohibiting the use of the Pontillo's name by the ownership group.

The Pontillo brothers founded one of the first post-war pizzerias in the United States in Batavia in 1947, and a few years later, Anthony headed out for Rochester to start a chain of pizzerias under the same name.

According to John and Paul Pontillo, there was an agreement between families not to infringe on each other's territory so long as Pontlllo's remained a family business.

In the lawsuit, Pontillo's Family Pizza contends that contrary to an early presentation by the Monroe County businessmen, Sam Pontillo, is not a partner in Batavia Pizza, and even if he were, Pontillo's Family Pizza would not have given him permission to use the Pontillo's trade name in a re-established Batavia enterprise.

"Because of his tax problems, Pontillo's Family Pizza, Inc., will not give Mr. Sam C. Pontillo the right to use PONTILLO'S to operate a pizzeria," reads a letter dated June 18 and written by attorney Stephan B. Salai to an attorney representing Masaschi and his partners.

It was one of two letters the ownership group received from the Rochester Pontillo's demanding that Masaschi and his partners stop using the Pontillo's name.

Sam and Paul Pontillo were operating the Batavia location when mounting debts and tax bills apparently forced them to close the store in November 2008. John Pontillo had also been involved in the operation at one time, and all three brother's dispute just how the family business fell into failure.

Sam has continued to operate the Le Roy Pontillo's, though John has made attempts to acquire it.

There is a pending lawsuit filed by the estate of Elizabeth Pontillo against Sam and Paul.


Motions denied in Pontillo's lawsuit

By Howard B. Owens

A series of motions filed by the estate of Elizabeth Pontillo seeking money and property from Sam and Paul Pontillo was dismissed by County Court Judge Robert C. Noonan on June 30.

"Nonetheless, the instant motion will be denied in its entirety for want of a clear and convincing demonstration of either a likelihood of ultimate success on the merits, the prospect of irreparable injury or a balancing of the equities in a plaintiff's favor," Noonan wrote in his decision. "Accordingly, the Plaintiff's Motion is hereby denied, and the temporary restraining order previously granted is hereby vacated."

It's unclear how this ruling impacts the lawsuit filed against the Sam and Paul by the estate.

Brian Degnan, attorney for the estate, could not be reached this afternoon, and Sam Pontillo's attorney, Reid Whiting, refused to come to the phone.

Degnan filed motions in June requesting Sam Pontillo not be allowed to remove equipment or enter the property of the Pontillo's in Le Roy, that he return all business equipment taken, and that he pay back rents, taxes and profits associated with the Le Roy location.

The estate, being administered by John Forsyth, also sought back rent from Paul Pontillo for the time he was living at 64 Vernon Ave., Batavia, the former residence of his parents, and an accounting of various items believed to be in the house at one time.

In his answer to the motion, Whiting accused Forsyth of a conflict of interest and a lack of good faith in dealing with Sam Pontillo.

In an answering affidavit, Sam Pontillo says that as accountant for the various Pontillo's businesses in Genesee County, he had access to financial information and other company secrets, "many of which he is now using in a selective manner to the detriment of defendants. As such, he has an obvious conflict of interest as a litigant."

Sam also notes, to his "amazement," John Pontillo was not sued by the estate, despite being involved in the business operations at one time.

He accuses John and Paul of mismanaging the "'goose that laid the golden egg' to the point of insolvency and desperate need for a subprime mortgage."

"He (John) was personally and highly involved in the demise of the Batavia store and its foreclosure," Sam writes.  

He accused John of removing a seven-ton HVAC unit from the Batavia location.

"John was an officer and manager of the Batavia store for a substantial time during which it failed to pay sales tax, payroll taxes and real property taxes and numerous suppliers," according to Sam.

One of the chief financial decisions that led to loss of the Batavia store, based The Batavian's previous reporting of this story, was taking out a mortgage on the property in November 2008. Sam Pontillo states that he "adamantly opposed" his mother's execution of the mortgage, "particularly at the exorbitant rate of 16 percent."

"Paul and John, not just Paul, have a lot to explain about the demise of that business," Sam writes.

As for the property Forsyth claimed belonged to the estate, Sam Pontillo provide copies of checks showing that he spent about $20,000 on the equipment, out of his own business entity, Le Roy Dough Boys, Inc.

Sam Pontillo also accuses John Forsyth of not answering his offers to buy the Le Roy Store or a proposed lease on the property.

As part of the lawsuit, the estate has sought some $50,000 in back rent from San Pontillo for the Le Roy location. The back rent is calculated at $2,500 per month. An affidavit from Daniel K. O'Shea, who says he's a lifelong resident of Le Roy, and an owner of downtown village property, says there is no property in the village worth more than $1,000 per month and the total estimated value of the Le Roy location is $100,000.

Sam states that even though he was never associated with Sam's Tomato Pies, either as employee, shareholder or director, the IRS has placed a lien on the home owned solely by his wife in Albany in an attempt to collect back taxes from the corporation.

"Plaintiffs and my brothers are lashing out at me without any factual or legal justification," Sam writes. "I suspect they are solely motivated by the base emotion of envy as a result of the position I secured with the new owners of the Batavia store

"As manager of the Batavia pizzeria, opened on April 6, 2010, I am not in competition with the Pontillo Family Partnership or the estate. I am merely earning a just living to support my wife and three sons, despite the shabby obstacles plaintiffs and my brothers have tried to place in my path."

Dave's Produce has barely survived the alleged bad debt from Pontillo's

By Howard B. Owens

Kathy Pettinella says in November 2008, she almost lost her business -- a business started and built by her late husband and late son 15 years ago.

Her business, Dave's Produce, relies on cash in the bank so she can buy product at farmers' markets and deliver it to local restaurants.

So when one local restaurant allegedly stiffed her for nearly $70,000, it really hurt.

"Oh, my God -- I am done. I’m absolutely done." Pettinella said were her first thoughts when she learned of the original Pontillo's Pizzeria closing. "Looking at all that money, I went through all my bank statements, my deposit slips, I was in trouble. I couldn’t cut back anything anymore out of my household budget."

How and why Pontillo's was allegedly able to run up all that debt is something Kathy still can't fully explain, but until last week, when The Batavian wrote about the debt in a story on  financial issues surrounding the Pontillo family and their legendary pizza business, she said nobody in Batavia knew about the debt. It was something she wanted to keep secret.

She said she was shaking the first time she answered a call from The Batavian asking about the debt.

"I was petrified," Pettinella said of her long-standing fear of people finding out about the debt. "I was was afraid people would think, ‘What a stupid woman. That’s why women don’t run businesses because they would drive it into the ground.'"

"That was my initial thought -- that I just made a bad example for the rest of women who are working so hard to run their own small businesses."

Kathy Richardson and Dave Pettinella -- Big Dave, as she calls him -- were together for 27 years. They would eventually have two children together, but never marry. She said Dave was a strong, capable businessman who was good with numbers and taking care of his customers.  He founded Dave's Produce when he happened to come across a local restaurant that needed deliveries from farmers' markets in Rochester and Buffalo. 

It didn't take long for the business to grow and bring in more clients.

Who hasn't seen the big "Dave's Produce" truck driving around town?

Big Dave died in in July 2007, though, just two years after Dave and Kathy's son, Dave, Jr., died in a car wreck at Daws Corner. 

A week after Big Dave died, it was Kathy taking the orders, writing the bills, buying the produce and delivering the product in that big white truck.

She's run Dave's Produce as a one-woman business ever since.

So when Pontillo's managers started calling on her to deliver more than just lettuce and eggplant in March 2008, she couldn't help but think that taking on more responsibility for such a big local business would be a feather in her cap.

She had heard Pontillo's had lost some of its suppliers over unpaid bills, she said, and at that point, there was at least an unpaid balance of $10,000 owed to Dave's Produce, but she wanted to believe that eventually Paul and Sam Pontillo would get caught up and pay off what they owed.

"That’s the sad thing about it," Kathy said. "Yeah, by the time summer came around, Pontillo's was way in debt with me, but then the other vendors shut them off. And I felt bad. Why I felt bad, I don’t know. But I did want to see the business run and I was their main supplier."

Starting in March 2008, Dave's Produce was not just making two deliveries a week to Pontillo's in Batavia, but three, and the average monthly order went from $2,000 to $3,000 range to more than $10,000, according to invoices Kathy Pettinella provided to The Batavian for review.

Some of the invoices were paid -- usually for only a few hundred dollars, at most, but all of April 2008 was paid.

Dave's Produce went from delivering fruits and vegetables to within weeks of the first time of being asked to pick up some wings and BBQ sauce to bringing in just about all the product Pontillo's needed, including all the meat and mozzarella.

"I could get them anything they needed," Kathy said.

What she couldn't understand was, Pontillo's was obviously bustling with business, so why wasn't she getting paid?

"It would have been so much less of a headache," Kathy said,  "to shut them off and say, ‘you know, you treated the guys in Buffalo and other areas real bad. Your checks are bouncing for them as much as they are for me. All this money I’m paying for the product, these other vendors are paying for the product, and you’ve got all these customers paying for the product – where’s the money going? Where is the money going?'"

It's the same question John Pontillo said he's put to his brothers, Sam and Paul, but he's never gotten an answer either.

Paul, however, says Kathy Pettinella is lying.

"I don't care what she confirmed, she's lying," Paul Pontillo said when first asked about the debt a week ago. "Ly-ing. Lying. OK? It's nonsense. We spent three hundred bucks a week with her. Produce. How many weeks would she let us go to come up with this number?"

The invoices show that even before Dave's Produce became the main supplier for Pontillo's, the restaurant was putting in orders for $500 to $600 per week.

Paul Pontillo apparently signed one of the invoices, and Sam Pontillo appears to have signed another, but the rest were signed by managers.

It was Paul, though, according to Pettinella, who was responsible for making payment.

According to Pettinella, if she ever got a check it would bounce, and then she would spend three weeks trying to get in touch with Paul, who would then pay off some of the bounced check with cash and issue a new check for the next invoice, but then that check would bounce.

"Pauly would say, ‘you’re going to get $1,000,'" Pettinella said.  "Well, by the time I get the money from the night manager, there’s not $1,000 in that envelope. There’s $500. But you try to call Paul and there’s no way he’s going to pick up the phone."

Shortly after Kathy Pettinella sat down for an interview with The Batavian on Saturday, she stopped in at Wilson Farms on East Main Street, across the road from the recently reopened Pontillo's Pizzeria, and as she was leaving the store, she stopped Paul Pontillo walking on the sidewalk.

She approached Paul -- talking to him for the first time since the original Pontillo's closed -- and asked him about calling her a liar.  She then called me and said Paul wanted to talk some more, but rather than try to arrange a three-way interview over the phone, since I was already in my truck and in the area, I just stopped by to talk with both of them. 

When I arrived, Kathy and Paul were yelling at each other. Paul was heatedly denying the extent of the debt Pettinella said Pontillo's owed Dave's Produce.

Paul Pontillo said there was no way the restaurant ran up that much debt to Dave's Produce, and he also accused Kathy of not being fully cooperative in settling the debt.

"I asked you for copies of the invoices six months before we closed," Pontillo said.

Just an hour before, The Batavian had reviewed invoices provided by Pettinella. The allegedly unpaided invoices spanned from January 2008 to October 2008. Six months prior to the closing would have been May 2008. 

A good portion of the $67,750 in bad debt the invoices allegedly show occurred after May 2008, with the entire April 2008 debt being paid off, according to Kathy.

The Batavian first became aware of this alleged bad debt because of a document provided by John Pontillo. He said it was prepared by Sam Pontillo after the restaurant closed, to show just how much debt the business had wrung up. Of the suppliers with outstanding balances, Dave's Produce was by far the largest.

The document lists the amount owed at $68,421.75. 

Paul Pontillo vehemately disputed that figure, and has continued to dispute it, since first being showed the document. He said that at most, Pontillo's owed Dave's Produce $3,000 or $4,000.

In another interview this week, Paul said the level of debt Pontillo's had at the time it closed would be normal for a business that just shut its doors. He said if the financial figures were available for South Beach, when it closed, or Cristina's, when it burned down, those documents would show a similar amount of unpaid bills.

"That's just what happens when you go out of business," Paul said.

The debt, he said, is really an old issue. He thinks The Batavian should be paying closer attention to the conduct of the estate's administrator, John Forsyth.

While Paul Pontillo is clearly the one Kathy Pettinella blames -- she said John did try to repeatedly warn her -- for the bad debt, she said Sam Pontillo knew what was going on (he did apparently sign one of the invoices), and she also had her own problems with Sam at his Le Roy restaurant.

Pettinella produced a copy of an allegedly bounced check from Sam and said it was shortly after that -- in March 2009 -- that she stopped deliveries to the Le Roy Pontillo's, though the bounced check and other debts associated with the Le Roy store were eventually paid, she said.

She said Paul Pontillo was well aware of her situation and that he and Sam "saw her coming."  They took advantage of her, she said.

"For Pauly Pontillo to turn around and do this to me – I just never would have thought it," Pettinella said. "I just never would have thought, for somebody to be that evil. I wasn’t in the right state of mind. I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t want to be mean. I didn’t want to hurt anybody. But you can’t be (that way) in a business -- business is business, it’s not personal. I just wasn’t looking out for myself."

Pettinella said no other small business owner in Batavia has even come close to running up any kind of big debt to Dave's Produce, which is part of the reason she said she was so trusting of the Pontillos.

"The people here in Genesee County, in Batavia, they’re wonderful," Kathy said. "They just support local business and they’re so good. We have a strong community. Business owners here in Batavia, their integrity is high. They’re … I’m just at a loss for words – they’re just amazing here.”

When asked again to explain how it happened, how the alleged debt was ran up to $67,750 in just 10 months, Kathy Pettinella tries again to answer and then says, “That still doesn’t answer your question, why did it keep going on so long? I just kept looking for the grace. I just kept thinking, things will turn around. People can’t be that evil. Wrong."

Pontillo v. Pontillo opens window on finances of legendary family business

By Howard B. Owens

Staggering debts -- to the government, bankers and suppliers -- appear to be what led to the closing of Batavia's most legendary pizzeria in November 2008.

At the time the restaurant closed, suppliers were possibly owed in the neighborhood of $220,000, according to a document obtained by The Batavian. In addition to those debts, there were unpaid mortgages exceeding $354,000 and taxes of more than $250,000 due. 

Many of these debts, outside of the mortgage, which was amply paid off in foreclosure proceedings, appear to be unsettled to this day, including more than $10,000 owed to a local funeral home that handled arrangements for Elizabeth "Betty" Pontillo following her death on Aug. 5, 2008.

In total, debts associated either with Pontillo's Pizzeria at 500 E. Main St., Batavia, or with Betty's estate, exceeded $850,000.

Disputes over those debts -- how they occurred, who is responsible, and who allegedly stole what or lied to whom -- has pitted brother against brother in the Pontillo family.

John and Paul have harsh words for Sam, and Sam isn't talking, but in previous news articles, he hasn't necessarily been kind to his siblings.

John, Paul and Sam are the sole surviving children of Salvatore ("Sam" Sr.) and Betty Pontillo (Daniel Pontillo died in 1957 and Elizabeth Mullen died in 2003; her son, John Mullen, is an heir to the estate).

Salvatore founded Pontillo's Pizzeria in Batavia with his brothers in 1947. It inspired scores of other pizzerias, including a chain founded by Salvatore's brother, Anthony, in Rochester that bears the Pontillo's name.  

Last week, Sam, working with business associates from Rochester, opened a Pontillo's Pizzeria at the old Batavia location.

Both John and Paul say they resent how Sam is being seen as some kind of hero in Batavia when he's the one who brought down, according to them, the original Pontillo's, especially when, according to John, Sam cheated a number of local business owners out of tens of thousands of dollars.

Even as Sam enjoys a busy opening week, he faces the possible loss of the Le Roy location. Genesee County records show property taxes on those parcels haven't been paid in nearly three years. According to County Treasurer Scott German, foreclosure procedures could start on July 1 if the debts remain outstanding.

It's also not clear if the new owners of Pontillo's Pizzeria in Batavia can legally operate a restaurant under that name. The federal trademark for "Pontillo's" is owned by the estate of Anthony Pontillo, but both John and Paul contend that rights to the name in Batavia are still owned by the estate of Betty Pontillo. 

Whether Sam is part owner in the new business is also unclear. John said Sam has represented himself as a part owner; Paul is convinced Sam is nothing more than a salaried employee.

Tom Masaschi, a Rochester developer who purchased the Batavia Pontillo's location for $400,000 last December, and is reportedly one of the investors in the new business, has not returned calls to The Batavian.

On Sunday, when told John and Paul had spoken with The Batavian, Sam declined an interview request for the third time.

"It's been a long 15 months," said a broadly smiling Sam as he stood at the walk-in counter of the Batavia Pontillo's, which was packed with customers. "I'm only looking forward now."

The Debt
Kathy Pettinella inherited her business from her late husband, Dave, who died after a lengthy illness in July 2007. Dave Pettinella, the founder of Dave's Produce, grew up on Vernon Avenue, just 10 doors down from the Pontillo boys.

When The Batavian called her to ask about the nearly $70,000 in debt Pontillo's Pizzeria seems to have rung up against Dave's Produce, she was surprised anybody knew about it.

"It's not something I've talked about," said Pettinella, whose son died in an automobile accident on Route 98 at Daws Corner in August 2005. "It's a very sore subject. It nearly put me out of business."

Pettinella is not the only vendor who was apparently left hanging when Pontillo's in Batavia was shut down. A document which John says Sam prepared early in the settlement process for Betty's estate, lists more than 30 vendors who were owed money (the document is not included in the probate file).

Some of the debts are only a few hundred dollars, such as $385 to the Batavia Daily News and $462 to Southern Wine Distributors. A handful of debts, however, reach into the thousands, with the $68,421.75 possibly owed to Dave's Produce being the largest.

Kathy Pettinella did not confirm the precise amount, but it was clear from our conversation that she felt Pontillo's closed owing Dave's Produce a substantial amount of money. After agreeing to a follow-up interview the day after our conversation, Pettinella has not returned calls from The Batavian.

Paul doesn't dispute most of the debts listed on the two-page document, but he does say there is no way Pontillo's Pizzeria owed Dave's Produce tens of thousands of dollars.

"I don't care what she confirmed, she's lying," Paul Pontillo said. "Ly-ing. Lying. OK? It's nonsense. We spent three hundred bucks a week with her. (On) Produce. How many weeks would she let us go to come up with this number?"

When John stopped working for Pontillo's Pizzeria, Batavia, in February 2008 (more on that later), he says the restaurant owed very little to its vendors, including Dave's Produce.

He doesn't have a hard time believing, though, that eight months later, the amount of money Pontillo's owed to Kathy Pettinella was approaching $70,000.

John said after several suppliers stopped sending product to Pontillo's, Kathy stepped in to help, going to the Clinton Bailey Farmers Market in Buffalo, buying cash-and-carry produce for Pontillo's and delivering it back to Batavia. She became the shop's main supplier.

When asked how she could allow one client to run up such a debt, Pettinella said she thought she was doing a favor for a fellow local business owner.

For Donald Will, owner of Will Poultry Co. in Buffalo, it wasn't a favor, it was an oversight.

When asked how Pontillo's allegedly rung up more than $40,000 in unpaid bills with his company, Will said, "I'm embrassed to say, poor controls on our part."

The Will Poultry Co. company ended up writing off $32,000 of unpaid bills from its Pontillo's account.

Another vendor, Dave Genecco, of Genecco Produce in Canandaigua, said the $8,000 listed on the debt document as unpaid bills owed to his company is wrong. Pontillo's actually owes him $12,000, he said.

His response to the prospect of never getting paid, "I'm f__ked." And after a long pause. "I'm the f__kee." He then hung up the phone.

"A lot of hard-working people got screwed," said John Pontillo, blaming Sam for the financial mess. "What bothers me is, he comes back to Batavia with no shame."

"But," John adds, "he won’t ever use any of those distributors again."

Paul is sanguine about the vendor debts. First, he says, the debts on the estate document are just the normal operational float of Pontillo's on a monthly basis (excluding the amount allegedly owed to Dave's Produce). Second, none of the debts really attach to the estate under corporate law, so they're not much to worry about.

"That's corporate debt," Paul said. "It has nothing to do with the estate matter. The corporation doesn't survive (in a legal sense). The only way that could be attached to the corporation is through trust taxes, such as sales taxes if the state wants to make a claim on the estate, meaning my mother, which it never did, because she hadn't been in the restaurant in years.

"She wasn't an officer. She wasn't an operator. She was just an owner. Personal guarantees. There were none that I know of on any of those debts. Any type of fraud -- there was none. An alternate identity -- there wasn't (one). The business has been around in some form or another since 1947, and well funded.

"The four ways to pierce that corporate barrier were nonexistant here. At least no one has ever come to court and made a claim on any of this. So none of this matters, otherwise they would have judgements against us, and none of them do."

Unpaid taxes seems to be a family tradition with the Pontillos.

There have been tax liens filed against Pontillo's business interests going back to the 1990s, well before Salvatore died in 2006, though most of the public record points to tax problems beginning after his death.

A search for tax liens on the New York state database turns up liens of $83,671 and $21,944 from 1996 against Paul J. Pontillo and a pizzeria he operated in Brockport. There is another lien from 1998 for $29,276.

The initial $112,000 in back taxes that The Batavian first reported in November 2008 are still listed there (here, here, here, here and here). So is a new lien against Paul and Pontillo's Pizzeria from March 2009 for $60,699, and one against Sam and Pontillo's Pizzeria from June 2009 for $25,999. Sam Pontillo and his wife, Karen, have a recent lien, March 23, 2010, not attached to any of the business entities, for $3,832.

Also of recent vintage is a $97,009 federal tax lien against Sam's Tomato Pies, Inc., filed Jan. 26, 2010. (Available through the "other debtor" search on this page.)

Old liens listed as satisfied include $35,112 from 2005, plus two totalling about $9,000 from 2005. This page shows two liens satisfied in 2005 for $67,700. The Le Roy Pontillo's had a tax lien filed in March 2009 with a satisfied date of May 2009, but the same page lists another lien for about the same amount, filed on the same date, that is not shown as satisfied. This page shows satisfied liens against the Le Roy Pontillo's for $33,000.

In total, if the government Web sites are accurate regarding the unpaid liens, the various Pontillo's entities still owe the feds more than $322,000. John said he doesn't believe any of these back-tax issues shown as outstanding have been settled.

Among the other unpaid taxes related to the Pontillo's empire in Genesee County are property taxes owed on the Le Roy Pontillo's location. The past three years of unpaid taxes now exceed $23,000, according to County Treasurer German.

Tax indebtedness is exactly what seems to have led to the eventual loss of the family business in Batavia.

In October 2007, with Betty's blessing, the corporation took out a $350,000 loan (a figure provided by John) from New York Income Partners/Monroe Title, with the majority of the funds being used to pay off back taxes.

According to a document in the Pontillo v. Pontillo lawsuit, checks were written against the loan to the U.S. Treasury for $116,120, $28,073 and $62,417. There were also checks paid out for various document and legal fees and $30,000 in loans to Betty. Otherwise, John said, nobody knows what happened to the remaining balance of the loan.

The loan was taken out against three parcels: The two parcels that comprise the Batavia Pontillo's location on East Main Street, and a residence at 64 Vernon Ave., as well as the equipment inside the Batavia pizzeria.

Probate records say the Pontillo's location, which comprises a handful of tax parcels, is worth $687,000. The most recent assessment of the  Vernon Avenue residence is for $114,000.

Monroe Title's parent company foreclosed on these properties last summer and bought them back at auction for $490,000 (a purely paper transaction, since the company was paying itself for the real estate). The Batavia Pontillo's location was then sold at the end of December to developer Tom Masaschi for $400,000 and the Vernon Avenue home recently sold for just under $100,000.

“When they foreclosed on those two properties, that was my inheritance," John Pontillo said. "It’s gone. They borrowed the money and mortgaged my future inheritance and they walked away from the note. I was out."

Corporate Structure
In November 2008, the Batavia Daily News published a story about the Pontillo's Pizzeria in Batavia being closed for renovations.

A day later, The Batavian broke the story that there were more than $112,000 in tax warrants against Pontillo's. The follow-up story by Joanne Beck labeled The Batavian's story as "rumor" and asked Sam to respond (note: Sam never responded to an interview request from The Batavian for the November 2008 story).

"I do not own that one," Sam said, pointing west toward Batavia from the Le Roy Pontillo's. "I own this one. We're settling the estate."

Sam declaimed any responsibility for the Pontillo's in Batavia.

The business is still owned by his mother's estate and was not run by (me), Sam said.

"I was locked out of the whole operation," he said. "John and Paul worked there. John was operations manager."

However, John didn't work there. He had been fired in February 2008. Paul was involved in the daily operations of the Batavia Pontillo's -- he certainly wrote the checks -- and was president of Sam's Tomato Pies, the corporate entity operating the restaurant for the Pontillo's Family Partnership.

But John points out, Sam was the treasurer.

"Sam will say, ‘I was in Le Roy. I didn’t know what was going on,’" John said in an interview last week. "Sam was the treasurer. He didn’t do his job. He didn’t know what was going on. He was warned repeatedly by people in that building, telling him that people were coming in looking for money.

"Sam was the treasurer. It was his responsibility to make sure these bills got paid. He didn’t do his job and he knew exactly what was going on. He can claim ignorance all he wants. It’s not a defense in this case."

Sam's Tomato Pies was incorporated in April 2007 with a corporate address of 3 Mohawk Trail, Slingerlands, N.Y., where Sam and Karen own a home. In September, LeRoy Dough Boy's was incorporated with the same corporate address.

Both of these corporations were then filed as DBAs (Doing Business As) at the Genesee County Clerk's office for the Pontillo's Family Partnership.

According to court documents, the Pontillo's Family Partnership is owned primarily by Betty's estate, at 64 percent. Sam, John and Paul each own 12 percent.

The sole shareholder of Sam's Tomato Pies was Betty. Paul was president and Sam was treasurer.

The ownership structure of LeRoy Dough Boys is one of the contested points of the Pontillo v. Pontillo lawsuit. The complaint contends that Sam set up LeRoy Dough Boys to operate the Le Roy pizzeria with Sam as the sole shareholder and president. Paul is listed as the treasurer (Paul says he never agreed to be a corporate officer in LeRoy Dough Boys).

John says he was never an officer in any of the companies, only an employee. He was operations manager in Batavia until February 2008.

Why was John fired?

Paul says it was a family dispute he won't discuss. John says it's because he was cracking down on some of the loose spending going on -- Paul was drawing a salary without working in the business, Betty was demanding $2,000 a month in payments and, according to both John and Paul, Sam was taking paper products and produce from the Batavia operation for the Le Roy location without paying for it.

The real break came, John said, when Paul tried to use starter checks from M&T Bank and he intervened; however, there have been persistent rumors that John was accused of stealing.

"(Paul) flipped out," John said. "He convinced my brother Sam to join forces with him and that’s when they got rid of me. That’s the truth. I never stole a dime from that restaurant."

Bad Checks and Big Debts
Talk with Paul about the debts and there seems to be only one villian in the case: brother Sam.

"My brother Sam is a crook from day one until now," Paul said. "He's never had an honest day in between. He's a glad-handing, back-patting, son-of-a-bitch. It's all he is. I hate to say that about flesh and blood, but you gotta say enough is enough. I'm not saying I'm an alterboy, but I don't screw my family over like this."

John doesn't put all of the blame on Sam for the debts; mainly, he says, he knows that most of the bills that had piled up prior to him taking control of the finances, were paid down by the time he departed Batavia for a job at a country club in Minnesota.

"I have a packet that I’ve been holding, in case I need to use it," John said. "In it, are statements from all of the distributors from the time when I was let go, about just where we were financially. We were pretty much right on the money. We were almost current. Then it was Pauly and Sam who drove that thing up in just eight months to about a half-million dollars in unpaid debts."

The degree to which Pontillo's in Batavia was operated in debt prior to John's employment as operations manager is not clear, but interestingly, in the probate records for his father's estate, there is mention of a judgement against Salvatore Pontillo out of Erie County for $48,000. The record also shows U.S. Food Services was eventually paid in full.

Both John and Paul say Sam wasn't paying rent for the Le Roy location and that he would regularly show up at the Batavia location with his red Pontillo's delivery fan, stuff it full of paper and product and head back down Route 5 to Le Roy.

All told, between rent and supplies, Paul estimates Betty's estate is out about $1.1 million.

"Ouch!" Paul says. "We do OK, but that's a big nut. That's why there's this number (pointing to the estate's debt memo). That's why after every time Sam takes over a business, two years later, here come the tax people."

From the time Salvatore died, Paul says he was at the Vernon Avenue residence taking care of his mother. He said he was in the restaurant so infrequently that employees didn't even recognize him when he did show up. He said after John left, Sam was in Batavia regularly.

But it was Paul, still president of Sam's Tomato Pies, writing the checks and paying the bills.

Two of those checks led to criminal charges against Paul.

Willowbrook Farms, listed on the Pontillo's Pizzeria debt document as being owed more than $10,000, turned over two bounced checks allegedly signed by Paul to Genesee County prosecutors. Each check is for more than $3,500. (A manager for Willowbrook declined an interview request for this article.)

The case is still open and attorney Jerry Ader has filed a motion for dismissal on the grounds that charges were not filed quickly enough under provisions of "speedy trial" rules.

Paul says he will accept whatever consequences come his way for the bad checks, but he blames Sam for the situation.

"I’ll take my licks because of any checks I’m accused of writing and signing, OK," Paul said. "I did it? Fine, my responsibility. But why? I wasn’t putting that money in my pocket. And 'the why' came from the theft of my brother."

According to available public documents, Willowbrook Farms is only one of three suppliers to take legal action based on apparently unpaid debts.

Turnbull Heating and Plumbing has an active mechanic's lien against the estate for $1,100 and Gilmartin Funeral Home has a pending lawsuit against Paul and Sam for more than $10,000 in alleged unpaid bills for Betty's funeral. (John said he believes $8,000 of that bill has been paid from the proceeds of sale of property the estate owned at Richmond Avenue and Oak Street, however there's no record of payment either in the court case or the probate file.)

Meanwhile, Paul, who teaches economics at GCC, says he's splitting time living with two friends. On the day we talked, he said he only had enough money for two more days of meals and payday was at least five days away. Though he once owned a home at 11 Lewis Ave., there's no indication that he owns any property in Genesee County now. Without a car, Paul said he walks everywhere he goes, including to the college.

"(Sam) went to Italy last summer," Paul said “He’ll get on a plane like you get in your car. He’s got a big $300,000 home in Albany. I don’t even have a bike."

The Pontillo's Name
The ads on WBTA radio say, "Pontillo's Pizzeria is now open," but Paul says it's not really Pontillo's.

He said he doesn't believe Sam buys quality ingredients, and with apparent plans to include a full bar -- beer, wine and hard liquor -- it won't sustain its family friendly tradition.

"It’s not Pontillo’s any more," Paul said. "It’s really not. The people should know that. The family isn’t there any more."

And unless Sam has a significant ownership interest, it's not clear that the current ownership can legally operate as "Pontillo's" anything in Batavia.

The federally registered trademark is owned by Anthony Pontillo's estate and is licensed to 22 pizzerias in the Rochester area.

Paul said Anthony and Salvatore had an agreement allowing the Batavia family exclusive rights to the Pontillo's trademark in Genesee County.

Those rights are retained, according to both John and Paul, and it's a point in the Pontillo v. Pontillo lawsuit by Betty's estate.

“What they’re doing up the street right now is illegal. It’s illegal," John said. "They cannot show you anywhere on paper their right to operate under the Pontillo’s name in Batavia. We’ve got an e-mail out to the lawyers right now. We’re hoping that they’ll get something in court to take that name away from them.”

Paul thinks that the Rochester investors are angling to establish "Pontillo's" as a common-law name, which would allow them to open additional Pontillo's pizzerias in Monroe County. He said it's the responsibility of the estate to fight to retain ownership of the name, but he isn't convinced the estate administrator, John L. Forsyth, is ready to do that.

Anthony's son, Dave Pontillo, called the situation with his cousins unfortunate, but said he had no comment on the trademark issue other than "we're evaluating it."

While John Pontillo says that Sam has indicated he has an ownership stake in the new Pontillo's, Paul doesn't believe so. Paul said he believes there's an employment contract between Sam and the Rochester partners clearly defining Sam as a manager and nothing more than an employee.

"When these guys (the Rochester partners) have had enough of my brother, when they have the name, if they get the legal rights to the name, they’ll wave goodbye to him," Paul said. "They won’t need him any more. They won’t need him at all."

As for the future of Pontillo's in Genesee County, John clearly wants to operate a Pontillo's Pizzeria locally. He has scouted for locations in Batavia. 

In 2009, according to probate records, John offered $400,000 to the estate for the Vernon Avenue residence, property on Oak Street and the Batavia location. Attorney Brian P. Degnan expressed concern in a motion filed with the court that the $400,000 would not cover all of the estate's debts (which included the mortgages on the property at the time), and because Betty's final tax returns had not been settled yet, that would leave the heirs personally responsible for an unknown, possible tax burden.

The offer was not accepted and eventually Monroe Title foreclosed on the property.

However, John Pontillo may also soon gain control of the Le Roy pizzeria. Paul said, and John confirmed, that John has a signed purchase agreement with Forsyth for the 64-percent interest of the estate in the Le Roy land and building. If the court evicts LeRoy Dough Boys and Sam Pontillo from the location, John hopes to take over operations of a Le Roy Pontillo's.

Pontillo v. Pontillo
It's more than a war of words between the Pontillo brothers. It's also a legal battle.

Sam and Paul are defendants in a lawsuit filed April 1 by the estate of Elizabeth Pontillo.

Estate administrator Forsyth is a CPA in Batavia. Local attorney Degnan is representing Forsyth and the estate.

John Pontillo is not directly a party to this lawsuit, but he filed a suit against Sam in 2008 and says he may yet pursue further legal action against Sam.

While Paul is a co-defendent in the new lawsuit, most of the accusations in the complaint are aimed at Sam.

The suit accuses Sam of unjust enrichment, breach of partnership fiduciary duties, breach of duty of loyalty, corporate waste, self dealing and unpaid rents, among other items.

There will be a hearing on April 30 on an order to show cause, asking the court: to prevent Sam from removing equipment from the Le Roy location for the Batavia location (already granted by Judge Robert C. Noonan according to John and Paul); that Sam not be allowed to enter the Le Roy location: that Sam and LeRoy Dough Boys be evicted from the Le Roy location; that Sam be ordered to return any equipment removed from the Batavia location (prior to foreclosure) to the estate; and that Sam be required to pay back rent and 64 percent of the profits accrued since August 2008 to the estate.

The suit also asks that Paul be ordered to provide an accounting for antiques from the Vernon Avenue residence that he allegedly sold and that he pay rent for the time he lived there after his mother's death.

In an affidavit filed by John Forsyth, Forsyth makes the following claims:

  • That Sam Pontillo fraudulently took control of the Le Roy location, with the creation of LeRoy Dough Boys with him as sole shareholder, because Sam did not pay Pontillo's Family Partnership for the business. Forsyth calls the deal creating LeRoy Dough Boys and making Sam the sole owner of the Le Roy business "a sham, fraudulent, and not an arm's length transaction and must be undone by the court."
  • That the Le Roy pizzeria sold its equipment to LeRoy Dough Boys as part of a settlement agreement with the IRS. The equipment, Forsyth contends, was not Sam's to sell and rightfully belongs to the estate of Elizabeth Pontillo.
  • Sam, according to the affidavit, admits to removing equipment from the Batavia location (in an attached e-mail purportedly from Sam, Sam says he took the equipment for safekeeping). Forsyth contends Sam did not have permission to remove the equpment.
  • That Sam Pontillo is a partner in the new LLC operating the new Pontillo's Pizzeria at 500 E. Main St., Batavia.
  • That Sam Pontillo has not paid rent for the Le Roy location since the death of Elizabeth Pontillo. The lease, according to Forsyth, calls for $30,000 a year in rent payments. Sam owes the estate, according to Forsyth, $50,000 in back rent.
  • That the new business is in direct competition with the Pontillo's Family Partnership.
  • While the affidavit claims that Sam Pontillo signed the mortgage that Monroe Capital (U.S. Income Partners) eventually foreclosed on, the copy of the mortgage on file with the Genesee County Clerk's Office was signed by Elizabeth Pontillo.
  • That Sam and Paul were responsible for ensuring the mortgage was paid but did not, leading to the foreclosure. 
  • "As a result of Defendant's actions," Forsyth writes, "the Estate lost this (the Pontillo's Batavia location) due to breach of the Defendant's duties."
  • Forsyth accuses Paul of illegally residing at 64 Vernon Ave. after the death of Elizabeth Pontillo, and of selling, without permission, various items from the home and also of allowing third parties to live in the house without paying rent.

While John is not a party to this particular lawsuit, he said there's really only one question he wants answered: What happened to all the money?

"When you ask that question, they run like mice," John said.

"When I talked with my brothers, I said, ‘where’s the money?’ And they were like this. They were like (shrugs)? Nothing. Not a word. I said, ‘Guys, you understand somebody has got to be held responsible for this.'"

Photos: Top, Pontillo's at 500 E. Main St.  Picture taken the day of publication of this article; Inset right, John Pontillo; inset left, police mug shot of Paul Pontillo; inset right, the Pontillo's location this winter when Sam was preparing the location to be reopened and the sign was uncovered; inset left, 64 Vernon Ave.

Sam Pontillo reportedly working on deal to reopen family pizzeria

By Howard B. Owens

A bit of confirmation of rumors that Sam Pontillo is working on a deal to reopen the legendary pizzeria on East Main Street came out of the Genesee County Economic Development Center today.

Pontillo's potential landlord, BP Properties out of Rochester, was granted a $6,875 property-tax exemption by the GCEDC.

GCEDC officials said BP Properties and Sam Pontillo are trying to secure refinancing on $500,000 in debt left over from the previous operation.

(via WBTA)


Could uncovered Pontillo's neon be a sign of what's to come?

By Howard B. Owens

Covered by a giant tarp because business signs cannot appear on the outside of buildings that are for sale, according to city code, the neon-lit Pontillo's Pizzeria sign once again hangs proudly from the building at 500 E. Main St., Batavia.

Could it be a sign that Sam Pontillo is getting close to reopening the legendary restaurant? We still haven't heard from Sam or building owner Thomas Masachi about what's going on there, but crews continue to work inside the building.

Could Pontillo's in Batavia soon be a Pontillo's again?

By Howard B. Owens

What's up with Pontillo's? I get asked that question nearly every day. We've all seen the work crews there.

What a couple other people have seen is Sam Pontillo at the 500 E. Main St., Batavia, location.

Over the past two weeks I've called Sam Pontillo several times. I've left a few messages. I have not heard back from him.

I've also called the property owner, Thomas Masaschi, and left messages. No return call.

Admittedly, third hand, I've heard that another restaurant owner tried to buy the old Pontillo's sign and was told it wasn't for sale -- that there were plans for it.

So at this point, we only have rumors and speculation, but for all the people who keep asking me what's going on, that's the only answer I can give at this point.

Pontillo's location sold to real estate developer

By Howard B. Owens

A Rochester-based real estate developer has acquired the old Pontillo's building at 500 E. Main St., Batavia.

Thomas Masachi said today that he isn't ready yet -- perhaps next week -- to discuss the plans he and his partners have for the location. 

Masachi, who is in the RIT Hall of Fame for his success in hockey and lacrosse, would not discuss the price he paid for the location, and that information has not yet become publicly available.

One of Western New York's most legendary pizzerias, Pontillo's closed in November 2008 after falling behind more than $112,000 in its taxes. John Pontillo made an attempt to buy the business and location out of probate, but he said his offers were rejected. The property was then sold at auction to a bank in Rochester, which in turn sold the property to Masachi.

For his part, John Pontillo is continuing to work on a plan to open a new pizzeria in Batavia. Reached yesterday, he said he hasn't settled on a location yet.

Meanwhile, Sam Pontillo continues to operate a Pontillo's Pizzeria in Le Roy on Main Street.

Report of portion of Pontillo's roof has blown off

By Howard B. Owens

Batavia Police are responding to a report that part of the roof of Pontillo's has blown off and is currently traveling eastbound on Main Street.

UPDATE: A little while ago, a Batavia Police officer reported the roof portion was recovered and returned to the Pontillo's property.

John Pontillo unsure why his offers to reopen family restaurant have been rejected

By Howard B. Owens

John Pontillo says he has tried doing everything he can to save Pontillo's on East Main Street in Batavia.

So far, all of his offers to buy the building and the business have been rejected. He doesn't know why.

"I offered a solution that gave the family business a chance to reopen and keep it in the family," John Pontillo said this afternoon. "It could be open right now. I made an offer that would have allowed us to take care of all our creditors. Bankers looked at it and real estate people looked at it and business people looked at it and all said, 'John, this is a good offer.'

"It's very frustrating. I don't know why it was rejected."

The landmark Pontillo's, which Sam Pontillo founded in 1947, shut down in November, with a sign appearing in the parking lot saying it was closed for remodeling. It turned out, however, that the business owed more than $112,000 in back taxes.

The brothers were soon in court trying to settle estate and debt issues and who would run the business.

And the fate of Pontillo's has been tied up in court since.

"We all grew up in this business," John said. "I would like to keep it in the family."

A for-sale sign appeared on Pontillo's yesterday about 4 p.m., but John is skeptical that the business and building can be sold before creditors foreclose on the property. He fears if his offer isn't accepted before foreclosure, there will be no more Pontillo's in Batavia -- not the family business his parents nutured into a regionally renowned destination for pizza and pasta.

As local restaurateur Sean Valdes noted in a comment yesterday, "This will be a hard building to sell as a restaurant. The overhead will be a challenge."

We have a call into Sam Pontillo seeking his comment on the situation.

For-sale sign posted on Pontillo's in Batavia

By Howard B. Owens

This is a reader-submitted photo of a for-sale sign on the Pontillo's building on E. Main Street in Batavia. A caller informs us the sign was placed on the building at 4 p.m. We're working on getting more information.

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