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PIZZA WARS

The players:

* Mombo's Pizza of Santa Rosa, opened in 2002 by Fred Poulos.

* Round Table Pizza, opened in 1959, with more than 500 stores,

according to the company's Web site.

The issue: Poulos sells a combination pizza called the Mombo Combo.

Early this year, Round Table began a promotion touting a combination

pizza called the Wombo Combo.

It was hardly an epic battle, this tussle between two very different pizza

joints.

But it occupied Fred Poulos, the owner of Mombo's Pizza in Santa Rosa, for

months.

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

this year.

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

20, 2002.''

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

confusion etc.''

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

fight.

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

more.'''

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.

PIZZA WARS

The players:

* Mombo's Pizza of Santa Rosa, opened in 2002 by Fred Poulos.

* Round Table Pizza, opened in 1959, with more than 500 stores,

according to the company's Web site.

The issue: Poulos sells a combination pizza called the Mombo Combo.

Early this year, Round Table began a promotion touting a combination

pizza called the Wombo Combo.

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

jhay@pressdemocrat.com.

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