Naples competition center of deep dispute in Chicago pizza lawsuit

Sweet Home Chicago Pub & Grab opened June 23 in the former Naples home of Aurelio's Is Pizza.

Photo by TIM ATEN // Buy this photo

Sweet Home Chicago Pub & Grab opened June 23 in the former Naples home of Aurelio's Is Pizza.

The name of this former Aurelio's Is Pizza location in downtown Naples was changed to Sweet Home Chicago Pub & Grub last month and the former franchisee cut ties with the Chicago-based Aurelio's chain, which is suing the former franchise, claiming violation of a non-compete clause in their longtime agreement.

Photo by TIM ATEN // Buy this photo

The name of this former Aurelio's Is Pizza location in downtown Naples was changed to Sweet Home Chicago Pub & Grub last month and the former franchisee cut ties with the Chicago-based Aurelio's chain, which is suing the former franchise, claiming violation of a non-compete clause in their longtime agreement.

— Competition for hot, deep-dish pizza is getting hotter and deeper than ever imagined for the owners of one Naples restaurant.

A federal lawsuit filed by Chicago-based Aurelio's Is Pizza petitions a judge to enforce a non-compete agreement that would prevent its former longtime franchisee in Naples from directly or indirectly operating a pizzeria for two years within five miles of its former downtown location.

"We are in a troubled spot here," said Naples restaurateur Nancy Stewart. "They have decided to pull all their guns out on us."

A few weeks ago, former Aurelio's franchisees John and Nancy Stewart opened Sweet Home Chicago Pub & Grub in the same Naples space, 590 Ninth St. N., where they operated an Aurelio's location for 15 years. The Stewarts cut ties with the chain five days earlier to open their own local venue that also specializes in Chicago cuisine.

The bulk of the legal action against them centers on the non-compete clause contained in five-year franchise agreements they originally signed June 19, 1997, and renewed in 2002 and 2007, with Aurelio's Is Pizza Franchise Inc.

A non-compete clause is a term used in contract law when one party agrees not to pursue a similar profession or trade in competition against another party upon termination.

"I can tell you with absolute certainty that there was a non-compete in each and every contract they signed over the years," said Kirk Mauriello, director of franchising for Aurelio's Pizza.

Attorneys for Sweet Home Chicago in Naples and Chicago were unavailable for comment Thursday.

Aurelio's filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on June 20, the day after the Chicago company ended its longtime relationship with the Stewarts, doing business as JNJC-Food Inc. A preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for Thursday morning was postponed after both the plaintiff and defendant filed a joint motion, claiming they reached a settlement in principle and requested time to formalize the agreement in writing, according to court documents. Details of the settlement have not been made public.

If Aurelio's is successful in its bid to enforce the five-mile non-compete, a look at a local map shows that the nearest to Naples the Stewarts could operate a pizzeria would be north of Pine Ridge Road in North Naples, east of Santa Barbara Boulevard in Golden Gate and south of Rattlesnake Hammock Road in East Naples. Regardless of the suit's outcome, the chain plans to contract with another franchisee to open a new Aurelio's pizzeria in Naples this fall and the Stewarts may never again use Aurelio's proprietary recipes.

"Attorneys for parties have been talking and we've made a lot of progress in settlement that can be agreed upon by both parties," said Ian H. Fisher, one of the attorneys for Aurelio's Is Pizza Franchise Ltd. "As of today, we are in that place where we are working together and making progress, but we are not there yet."

Because of professional courtesy, Fisher did not want to reveal or comment on settlement particulars, but he thinks both parties can find middle ground before next week's court hearing.

"I remain hopeful that the parties can reach an agreement before then," he said. "It's our hope that we will be able to work something out in final form before the 19th."

When Sweet Home Chicago Pub & Grub opened June 23, two pages of pizza selections, both Chicago thin crust and deep-dish options, made up nearly half of the restaurant's menu. Since then, the menu has been scaled back a bit, but the local restaurant continues to serve pizza.

Many Aurelio's menu items are served by Sweet Home Chicago, but under a different name. For instance, the Aurelio's appetizer Bosco Sticks are listed as "breadsticks with cheese" on the new pub's menu, Mama Aurelio's Calabrese is simply calzone, and Aurelio's Citrus Salad is now Orange Raspberry Walnut Salad, but both list the same ingredients.

Until the new Naples location opens, holders of Aurelio's gift cards may still use them at the chain's other 42 locations, including the Aurelio's at Gulf Coast Town Center in San Carlos Park, the only other location in Florida.

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 46

cozyboy writes:

YAWN .This Aurielo's gets more coverage in the NDN than NABOR.

h8snow writes:

Come on out to Crossroads Center where Alice Sweetwater's recently vacated. Publix anchored, next to hospital, entrance to Vineyards.

joeblow writes:

Have to side with Aurielio's on this one...you signed a non-compete clause and now you want to open up a new pizza shop in the same location as your prior franchisor???!?!?! A five mile radious means...guess what? Five miles.

what234 writes:

in response to thepartyofknow:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I find it hard to believe that a Chicago based company would be buying local products......
I had the dis pleasure of eating at the one at gulf coast and it tasted like frozen pizza you get from the grocery store, wont do that again!

greatguy34102 writes:

MAMA MIA's<-------Locals know the better option

OP writes:

in response to what234:

I find it hard to believe that a Chicago based company would be buying local products......
I had the dis pleasure of eating at the one at gulf coast and it tasted like frozen pizza you get from the grocery store, wont do that again!

It was the local franchisee that bought local, the Chicago based company wanted to make the Naples owners use only Aurelio's supplied products; and that is what led to the split.

Seems to me, that Aurelio's is not forced to require compliance with the no compete clause. In my opinion, Aurelio's is just serving up spite now.

OP writes:

I suggest a new slogan for Aurelio's;

Aurelio's, we serve spite!

JoeAmerican writes:

Experienced this only a couple times. Service staff was very rude each time, must be part of the Chicago concept brand.

Beachtowel writes:

Aurellios had the best pizza in Naples hands down.

NaplesShmaples writes:

in response to greatguy34102:

MAMA MIA's<-------Locals know the better option

Just make sure you bring cash, or mama will throw the books at you!

RunSilentRunDeep writes:

You all have not been to Pino's; a hard left as you enter the shopping center at the north enterance to Pelican Landing. Order their "Grandmas".. now that is a pizza.

Company144 writes:

I've eaten there before and the pizza tastes like the box it comes in for take out.
The best pizza in town is that joint right next to Fresh Market on US41 in back of Micky D's. He throws a fantastic pizza and the sauce is light and the crust tender.

Notthesame writes:

nobody has ever came close to the chicago style pizza and beef sandwiches that Sutton House used to serve. many years ago, but they were the best. I will admit Taste of Chicago has a pretty good Beef though.

freedomsailor writes:

As usual, the only winners will be the lawyers!

NeezDutz writes:

Provide better food, better service and decent prices and you won't have to worry about your competition

greathornedlizard writes:

no sympathy for either side.
try Rosedale's on Pine Ridge Rd. at Goodlette Frank.
New York style. Best pizza in town.

beetlejuice writes:

in response to h8snow:

Come on out to Crossroads Center where Alice Sweetwater's recently vacated. Publix anchored, next to hospital, entrance to Vineyards.

baa ha ha recently vacated three years ago
atrocious rents there

Pookie writes:

Aurelio's Pizza is extemely good as long as it is being made according to the original "Italian Village" standards. I have been eating Aurelio's Pizza at my home town in Illinois for over 50 years and it is still considered the best pizza in town.

ballinemt writes:

I dont get it. Shouldn't a companies' main goal be to please the customer, rather than making more money? Wouldn't it be best for Naples residents to have two Chicago pizza joints in close proximity to each other? Its disgusting that a company cares so much about the bottomline.

HOMEBOY2 writes:

in response to what234:

I find it hard to believe that a Chicago based company would be buying local products......
I had the dis pleasure of eating at the one at gulf coast and it tasted like frozen pizza you get from the grocery store, wont do that again!

Naples Aurielo's was much better than Gulf Coast Town Center.. I didn't care for GCTC pizza or the service. Naples always made you feel like part of the family.. The service was always awsome... I am sorry to see they have to go through this...

BHS20 writes:

Really s----- headline and lead in. Since 1959, Aurelio's specialty has been Chicago thin crust. I will say that the Naples Aurelio's is much better than GCTC. However, you can't beat the pie from the original Aurelio's in Homewood, IL. That's where I had my first Chicago thin crust and I go back everytime I am in the south suburbs.

laneshad writes:

I would love to see the exact wording of their not compete clause. That clause is to deter you from quitting in the middle of the contract. At the end of a contract you chose not to renew it's restriction of trade violating the commerce clause. The contract was signed 5 years ago so that clause technically could be considered expired. You chose not to renew, the contract is null and void. If the Stewart's are using all fresh local ingredients and made from scratch, it's not the same Aurelio's product which is not fresh and is frozen. Corporate is upset like a spoiled child....whaaa!

trueamerican writes:

I know "Non-compete", clauses are legal in IL. I don't believe they are legal in FL. I side with laneshad, if the term of the contract is over, then it's over period...

ChiDem writes:

in response to OP:

I suggest a new slogan for Aurelio's;

Aurelio's, we serve spite!

I presume you believe it is OK to live off of someone's hard work?

That is also called theft.

ChiDem writes:

in response to laneshad:

I would love to see the exact wording of their not compete clause. That clause is to deter you from quitting in the middle of the contract. At the end of a contract you chose not to renew it's restriction of trade violating the commerce clause. The contract was signed 5 years ago so that clause technically could be considered expired. You chose not to renew, the contract is null and void. If the Stewart's are using all fresh local ingredients and made from scratch, it's not the same Aurelio's product which is not fresh and is frozen. Corporate is upset like a spoiled child....whaaa!

Which law school did you flunk out of??

And what would you say if you saw the "exact wording"?

A non compete clause is to "deter you from quitting in the middle of the contract"?

Absurd.

It doesn't matter if the ingredients are from a donkey butt.

Non compete clause means ............................................... non compete

joeblow writes:

in response to ChiDem:

Which law school did you flunk out of??

And what would you say if you saw the "exact wording"?

A non compete clause is to "deter you from quitting in the middle of the contract"?

Absurd.

It doesn't matter if the ingredients are from a donkey butt.

Non compete clause means ............................................... non compete

Agree with above statement...the clause will most likely prohibit the franchisee from opening or "competing" against the franchisor for a year period and a radious period after the initail agreement is up. Full on protection for the franchisor. You shouldn't have signed it if you didn't understand it. This place will be done soon and yes, only Lawyers will win on this one.

belligerent writes:

Okay, I apologize beforehand if this is a s----- question- how is it a violation of non-compete if Aurelio's does not have another restaurant in the area?

MikeS123456 writes:

I have read through many franchise agreements and there is usually a clause that requires the franchisee to give 6 months notice to a franchisor of the intent not to renew. Sounds like the owners did not give that notice and decided to immediately compete (a few days later) at the end of the agreement using a menu that was identical. If the contract stated that they couldn't be a pizzeria then the menu should reflect that change not just the name of the restaurant. Contracts are there for a reason. To protect the injured party in the event of a disagreement. If you sign a contract you should have to abide by the contract. Period.

imjustbeinghonest writes:

I sure hope they make it wherever they end up.

We need a place to enjoy Chicago-styled pizza and food and it's certainly NOT going to be Augustina's Taste of Chicago (GAG)! I don't know what's the worse: the food, service, or management!

I am all about supporting local businesses as long as they respect their employees. In too many cases I have heard that they certainly do not!

Beachtowel writes:

in response to greathornedlizard:

no sympathy for either side.
try Rosedale's on Pine Ridge Rd. at Goodlette Frank.
New York style. Best pizza in town.

I've tried it & Aurellios has it beat.

stonnerjohnnyII writes:

in response to greathornedlizard:

no sympathy for either side.
try Rosedale's on Pine Ridge Rd. at Goodlette Frank.
New York style. Best pizza in town.

Get the armpit hair special from the guido that wears the tank top. Their food sucks!

stonnerjohnnyII writes:

in response to Pookie:

Aurelio's Pizza is extemely good as long as it is being made according to the original "Italian Village" standards. I have been eating Aurelio's Pizza at my home town in Illinois for over 50 years and it is still considered the best pizza in town.

Then go back home Dan

GE3 writes:

in response to OP:

I suggest a new slogan for Aurelio's;

Aurelio's, we serve spite!

Bravo, OP.

Hey, Aurelio's, we will vote with our dollars and our feet, in support of our locals.

Wells34 writes:

in response to HOMEBOY2:

Naples Aurielo's was much better than Gulf Coast Town Center.. I didn't care for GCTC pizza or the service. Naples always made you feel like part of the family.. The service was always awsome... I am sorry to see they have to go through this...

I have to agree with Homeboy2, the Naples location was much better than the Gulf Coast Town Center....the staff at Naples is always willing to go out of their way to accommodate the customer. I too am sorry to see the owners having to go through such a battle with this corporate entity. I think we should all support the local businesses.

Wells34 writes:

in response to MikeS123456:

I have read through many franchise agreements and there is usually a clause that requires the franchisee to give 6 months notice to a franchisor of the intent not to renew. Sounds like the owners did not give that notice and decided to immediately compete (a few days later) at the end of the agreement using a menu that was identical. If the contract stated that they couldn't be a pizzeria then the menu should reflect that change not just the name of the restaurant. Contracts are there for a reason. To protect the injured party in the event of a disagreement. If you sign a contract you should have to abide by the contract. Period.

MikeS123456, how would you know or even guess that the owners did not give a 6 month notice??? I have been in the new restaurant and their new menu was not identical!! It seemed to be geared to more of a Chicago themed. As for it being a pizzeria....I see them more as a family restaurant offering a lot more than just pizza. You sound like an attorney or a franchisor........

Wells34 writes:

in response to GE3:

Bravo, OP.

Hey, Aurelio's, we will vote with our dollars and our feet, in support of our locals.

Agreed.....support the local businesses not the corporate world!!!!

Here4Now writes:

Bottom line - Aurelios pizza blows

Beachtowel writes:

Aurellios easily has the best pizza in Naples. Funny what some people think is good pizza.

OP writes:

in response to ChiDem:

I presume you believe it is OK to live off of someone's hard work?

That is also called theft.

I don't understand your point, or how that statement relates to my post.

Aurelio's has nothing to do with the new restaurant, and, in fact Aurelio's refused the improvements the new place wants to continue. The Aurelio's tradition is dead at that location, the new restaurant is in no way benefiting from the work product of Aurelio's; they transcended the lame corporate method and offer an altogether better product.

volochine writes:

I have to agree. Just boycott the Gulf Coast location. That owner will then be able to complain that the PARENT company did a malevolent act to cause harm to the Gulf Coast franchise. Welcome to the horrid world of franchising.

I wish the Stewarts well, but Augustino's has got the true Chicago flavor down pat. Deep dish or really thin crust, or great Italian beef. Lousy location , but the closest to native Chicago area pizzerias.

naplespatriots writes:

NY Pizza & Pasta in RiverChase Plaza on US 41 @ Immokalee Road has the best pizza in the area.

Toolong_Inthesun writes:

Is is Grub or Grab? I am confused "Sweet Home Chicago Pub & Grab" although I have never knowingly had grubs on my pizza I swear they were there.

String911 writes:

Their menu is at least 50% of the old Aurelio's recipes under a different name. Same ingredients included. Ridiculous.

joeblow writes:

Pub and Grub blows!

Pookie writes:

in response to stonnerjohnnyII:

Then go back home Dan

Everyone has a right to their opinion but what you said was rude. I was simply stating a fact that everyone from our hometown loves Aurelio's pizza. You must not be from Naples because all the people we have encountered here have been very nice.

pittgirl writes:

in response to joeblow:

Pub and Grub blows!

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