Stevi B’s pizzeria files trademark complaint against Warner Robins franchisee

alopez@macon.comMay 8, 2014 

The ownership group behind the pizza buffet restaurant chain Stevi B’s has filed a trademark infringement complaint in federal court against a Warner Robins franchisee.

Michael Ellis of Warner Robins is listed as the owner of the restaurant operating as Stevi B’s Pizza in the Willow Lake Crossing plaza on Watson Boulevard.

ACG Pizza Partners, which owns the franchise, revoked Ellis’ franchise agreement in April, but he has continued to operate without permission to use the trademark name, according to the complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

“This was certainly our last resort,” said Stevi B’s CEO Matthew Loney.

The complaint states Ellis’ franchise agreement was terminated because he failed to properly report revenue. Ellis also has pending one or more lawsuits seeking to foreclose a lien or mortgage against his business premises or equipment, the complaint states.

According to court records, a summons was issued to him Tuesday, and he has 21 days to respond. Calls to Ellis Wednesday and Thursday were not returned.

A franchisee must pay 5 percent of its weekly gross sales, excluding sales tax, to the trademark owner, according to the Stevi B’s website. The Warner Robins restaurant avoided paying the percentage on some money it took in by employing a second cash register, the complaint states.

Ellis signed his franchise agreement with the founders of the restaurant chain, Robert Stoll Jr. and Richard Stoll, in 2007, just months before they sold the company to the private equity firm Argonne Capital Group, which then created Atlanta-based ACG Pizza Partners.

Loney, CEO of ACG Pizza Partners since 2009, personally delivered a termination notice to the Warner Robins restaurant in April, the complaint states, but Ellis allegedly drove him out and told him he would continue to operate until ordered by a court to stop.

ACG Pizza Partners is requesting Ellis discontinue using the Stevi B’s trademark and return all property labeled with it to the company. Also, the lease to the Willow Lake Crossing storefront is held by the company and not Ellis, Loney said, so the company is requesting he vacate.

According to its website, the franchise has 40 locations in eight states.

“We’re committed to the Warner Robins market,” Loney said. “We’re hopeful that we can get this resolved as quickly and expeditiously as possible so that we can continue to grow with the community and we can be there to serve them in a way that is representative of the brand we have built here in Georgia.”

To contact writer Andres David Lopez call 256-9751.

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