Vincent’s, landmark pizza shop in Forest Hills, shut down
If you’re a Vincent and you sell pizza, you’ve got a little trouble.
Acting in a franchise disagreement lawsuit, a federal judge this month ordered Vincent’s Pizza Park on Ardmore Boulevard in Forest Hills to shut down.
The closure of the iconic pizza parlor has caused others who use the name “Vincent” and sell pizza some consternation.
As news of the shutdown made the rounds on Friday, Vincents of sorts raised an outcry.
“I’ve been getting calls since 8:30 this morning asking me, ‘Are you closing?’ ” said Vincent Abatto, owner of Vincent’s Pizza in Green Tree and the borough’s former mayor. “Obviously, it’s created some confusion. I’ve been in business for 35 years, and you don’t want to lose anything you’ve worked hard to attain.”
“People are calling, thinking that we’re closed,” said a manager of Vincent’s Pizza Park on Frankstown Road in Penn Hills.
“People have been calling and asking if we’re closed,” echoed the manager at the Vincent’s Pizza Park on Route 30 in North Huntingdon. “But we’re still open.”
Both are franchises of Vincent’s Pizza Park but are independently owned.
A sign on the front door of Vincent’s Pizza Park in Forest Hills alerted customers that the contents of the building are up for sheriff’s sale.
The store has long been known for its “Vinnie Pies,” greasy but beloved. Social media yesterday was full of people commenting on the shutdown and reminiscing about the shop, which drew patrons from beyond Forest Hills for decades.
Court records show that owners John Belissimo Jr. and Joseph Cava broke their agreement with the franchise owner, Toni Zollner of Glendale, Calif., by failing to remit royalty payments — 5 percent of the store’s income — for nearly two years.
Zollner — daughter of the original Vincent, Vincent Chianese, who died in 2010 — owns the building that houses Vincent’s Pizza Park in Forest Hills. She filed a separate lawsuit in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas against Belissimo and Cava in an attempt to recoup $10,909 in back rent they owed. Neither Zollner nor her lawyer, Jeffrey Lalama, returned calls.
Cava could not be reached. Calls to his and Belissimo’s attorney, David Eckle, were not returned.
Reached via email, Belissimo noted that the building was not for sale, adding, “I don’t know what (Zollner’s) plans are. Let’s all just hope that it stays a Vincent’s Pizza.”
As word spread of the venerable pizza shop’s closing, dozens of fans took to social media to share photos and memories.
“If you ever had Vincent’s in Forest Hills (and survived), this is a sad story,” Alexander Carroll tweeted.
“It was definitely one of a kind,” said Jack Carroll, 53, of Upper St. Clair — Alexander’s father, who patronized Vincent’s for 35 years.
After moving from the Forest Hills area 14 years ago, Carroll said he and his wife made the effort to go back to Vincent’s about three times a year. He said servings were so generous, he had “leftovers for three days.”
“It hadn’t changed over the years,” he said. “It was kind of a part of Pittsburgh history.”
Abatto said he was worried that those who keep him stocked with fresh sauce, cheese and dough might think he closed.
“My brother told me to call my purveyors, so I called them immediately,” Abatto said. “We don’t want anyone thinking we’re going out of business.”
Abatto and Vincent’s Pizza Park clashed in 2002, when Chianese filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Abatto, saying the name of Abatto’s restaurant caused “extreme confusion” over the two businesses.
Abatto said his business didn’t violate trademark because it’s his birth name; he agreed to put the word “pizza” on a different line from “Vincent’s” on menus, signs and anywhere else.
He has a disclaimer on his menus that says his restaurant is not affiliated with the Vincent’s on Ardmore Boulevard.