George Sotiropoulos was scheduled to open the new Foreside House of Pizza at the Falmouth Shopping Center on U.S. Route 1 Tuesday, July 9. But a lawsuit filed by his parents challenges his use of the FHOP trademark. Kate Irish Collins / The Forecaster

FALMOUTH — A legal dispute is heating up between family members over who can use the trademark for an iconic local pizzeria.

George Sotiropoulos was set to open the new Foreside House of Pizza this week in the same Falmouth Shopping Center storefront where his parents previously ran the longtime Falmouth House of Pizza. The new restaurant sign prominently displays the “FHOP” moniker.

Antonia and Steve Sotiropoulos – George’s parents – meanwhile are seeking a zone change to build a new Falmouth House of Pizza restaurant and brewery farther north on Route 1.

And, according to their attorney, the elder Sotiropouloses are also just weeks away from opening a boutique eatery, FHOP Express, with a limited menu, inside the new Ela Market & Grill at 125 Bucknam Road. Ela is owned and operated by their youngest son, Nicholas.

Adam Shub, an attorney with Preti Flaherty in Portland, on Monday said his clients are suing their oldest son in Cumberland County Superior Court to stop him from using “FHOP,” which they argue has been exclusively associated with the Falmouth House of Pizza for more than 40 years. They sued, Shub said, after George Sotiropoulos ignored a cease-and-desist letter.

George Sotiropoulos’ attorney, Timothy Norton of Kelly, Remmel & Zimmerman in Portland, acknowledged receipt of the lawsuit, but on Tuesday said he couldn’t comment publicly until he confers with his client.

Besides the lawsuit, Shub said the elder Sotiropouloses are also seeking a temporary restraining order that would keep George Sotiropoulos from using “FHOP” in association with his business until the lawsuit is decided. Shub said he hopes a judge might agree to hear the TRO motion this week, and no later than next week.

“The case we’re making is that our folks have used the FHOP trademark for decades and everyone knows that,” he said. “(George) can’t use FHOP when it’s ours. It’s confusing and it’s unfair and it’s just not right.”

The arrow indicates the proposed location of the new Falmouth House of Pizza at 356 U.S. Route 1. Contributed

Complicating the dispute is the fact George Sotiropoulos this year registered the FHOP trademark for the Foreside House of Pizza with the Maine secretary of state’s office. But, Shub said, under trademark law it’s not necessarily the first filer who gets to use a trademark. The law, he said, recognizes prior use as a factor.

Part of the complaint against George Sotiropoulos also accuses him of fraudulent registration.

“Foreside House and George S. knowingly made a false representation in connection with the April 23 registration of FHOP,” the lawsuit says. “For example, Foreside House and George S. represented that FHOP had not been previously used.”

The lawsuit adds, “Foreside House and George S. had knowledge … that FHOP was used in connection with the Falmouth House of Pizza, including but not limited, to menus, advertising and social media.”

The other counts in the lawsuit are trademark infringement, dilution, deceptive trade practices and conversion.

Along with the TRO, Shub said his clients are asking the court to permanently enjoin George Sotiropoulos from using FHOP “in any manner,” order him to cancel his trademark registration, and turn over all social media controls for any platform referring to FHOP as associated with Foreside House of Pizza.

The lawsuit also asks the court to permanently enjoin George Sotiropoulos from “making any representations or undertaking any conduct which suggests, in any way, that Foreside House is associated or related to Falmouth House.”

The pizza war between George Sotiropoulos and the rest of his family began this spring when Antonia and Steve Sotiropoulos were evicted by the new owners of the Falmouth Shopping Center, Jonathan Cohen and Joseph Solely.

There are still conflicting accounts about what led to the eviction, but what became clear is that while Cohen and Solely asked the elder Sotiropouloses to leave the shopping plaza, they were negotiating a new lease with George Sotiropoulos, who had plans to open a new pizzeria under the name Foreside House of Pizza.

At at Town Council meeting Monday, July 8, Lee Sotiropoulos, the Sotiropoulos’ middle son, said it was his parents’ intention to reopen the Falmouth House of Pizza in a new location right away, but they were unable to find a suitable location. And, with their recent experience as tenants at the mercy of a landlord, his parents decided they wanted to build a new restaurant they would own outright.

The problem is, the undeveloped lot at 356 U.S. Route 1 is in the Business and Professional zone, which does not allow restaurants. That’s why Lee Sotiropoulos and his parents are seeking a change to the Village Center zone.

Lee Sotiropoulos, who has been running the family-owned Antonia’s Pizzeria in Freeport for the past several years, said Monday that his parents hired a commercial real estate broker to help with the search for a new location for the Falmouth House of Pizza, but “we just kept hitting roadblock after roadblock. It seems like this (new) lot is the only one that’s really available.”

Sotiropoulos said his parents wanted to stay on Route 1 and not be too far from where they operated their original restaurant.

“We love this town and want to continue to do business in Falmouth,” he said, although no specific details were available about the new restaurant and brewery.

While councilors were sympathetic to the zoning request, and many said they couldn’t wait for a new Falmouth House of Pizza to open, they were wary about making a change without understanding all of the impacts. They noted the Route 1 North report, which was completed several years ago, does not include restaurants among the recommended uses on that stretch of the highway.

Councilor Jay Trickett, who was a member of the Route 1 North Committee, said while members of the group did not agree on everything, the original goal was for Route 1 North to be “complementary, but different” from Route 1 South.

“I think in the abstract we’d all be excited to see this happen, but there are broader issues and we’re being careful about making any land use changes,” he said.

Councilor Hope Cahan agreed and said the council would have to carefully consider “what we’re losing versus what we’re gaining, and that’s going to take some discussion and analysis.”