A SLICE OF CONTROVERSY: SR PIZZA RESTAURANT OWNER CHALLENGES ROUND TABLE CHAIN ABOUT THE NAME OF ITS PROMOTIONAL PIE
It was hardly an epic battle, this tussle between two very different pizza
But it occupied Fred Poulos, the owner of Mombo's Pizza in Santa Rosa, for
It's a safe bet that it didn't occupy anybody at Round Table Pizza, maker
of the Wombo Combo, to anywhere near the same degree.
And when things drew to an unexpected, undramatic close Wednesday -- with
Round Table saying the combo was coming off the menu -- Poulos was pleased, if
a little confused.
Which may be fitting, as confusion was the main ingredient in this food
fight from the start.
You see, Poulos serves at least three different pizzas that use the name
Mombo, including the Mombo Combo.
And if you ask him, Poulos will tell you he coined the name Mombo's when
his infant daughter ran the words Mama and Babbo, which is Italian for dad,
together. But Round Table never asked, Poulos said.
At least not before the East Bay-based pizza franchise chain with the
slogan ''The Last Honest Pizza'' started advertising its Wombo Combo early
Poulos said customers at his Mendocino Avenue restaurant were confused.
Wombo is too similar to Mombo, he argued, and he had Mombo first.
Following his initial complaint, the company peppered him with questions.
At the request of Round Table attorney Robert Holtzapple, Poulos sent
proof, including old menus with the names Mombo and Mombo Combo and a 1 1/2
-year-old newspaper advertisement for the Mombo Combo.
He also sent a certificate signed by former Secretary of State Bill Jones,
attesting that on July 11, 2002, Poulos registered the name Mombo's Pizza.
About half way down the form, it says: ''Date First Used Anywhere: March
Holtzapple then asked Poulos for more proof.
Round Table needed ''additional details'' about who among Poulos' customers
were confused, and such details as ''how did that person express his/her
And, he said, Mombo's Pizza may be a registered trademark, but Round Table
wanted to know if ''Mombo Combo'' was registered too. Had Poulos lost any
sales since Round Table introduced the Wombo Combo? If so, could Poulos
furnish sales information for each week for the last year and explain why the
Wombo Combo caused the lost sales?
Poulos' lawyer told him the message was clear: Round Table was preparing to
The lawyer also told Poulos that he had a strong case.
''He's got an open-and-shut case of trademark infringement,'' said Marcus
Bastida, an intellectual property attorney in Los Angeles.
Holtzapple, who until Wednesday afternoon was the only Round Table
representative to answer questions about the dispute, said the letter ''wasn't
intended as a 'sue me and we'll see if you get what you want.'
''The intent,'' he said, ''was 'show me,' not 'I won't talk to you any
As the letters went back and forth, Bastida recommended that Poulos speak
to Scott Lewis, a small business attorney in Santa Rosa, who told Poulos it
would cost between $10,000 and $35,000 to take on Round Table.
''I am not that substantial,'' Poulos said.
Sure, he said, ''I believe it was probably coincidental.'' And his business
is up, not down. But, come on, now.
Forget the lawyers, Poulos finally decided. A couple weeks ago, he hung a
banner over his shop's door reading, ''Cease and Desist Round Table Pizza.''
It was still hanging Wednesday evening when Round Table spokeswoman Erin
Atkins called a reporter to say the Wombo Combo was off the menu. She said the
promotion was intended to expire and it has.
Asked why several Sonoma County stores -- five of 10 contacted in an
informal survey -- are still serving the pizza, she said ''apparently they
have some leftover ingredients and they're continuing to make that pizza until
they use them up.''
So what now for Mombo's Pizza?
''I've been dealing with this for months,'' said Poulos, who noted that no
one from Round Table called him to say the Wombo Combo was gone. ''If they
were going to stop it anyway, they could have said that up front.''
And his banner?
''I'm going to leave it up,'' he said. ''When I know for sure they have
stopped, I will take it down.''
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or