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Duluth Toppers ad sets off legal battle with Domino's

Duluth's Toppers Pizza was the first franchise to run a new ad campaign that featured Domino's Pizza. That ad set off a legal dispute between the two pizza companies. Adelle Whitefoot / awhitefoot@duluthnews.com.

While getting ready for its June 16 grand opening, Duluth's Toppers Pizza began running a new "Us vs Them" advertising campaign featuring a Domino's Pizza truck. In response, Domino's sent Toppers a cease and desist letter.

The letter, dated June 11, states, "It has recently been brought to our attention that your company's marketing strategies include advertisement that defames our brand and incorporates our registered trademark." Domino's was made aware of the ad after a customer from Duluth took a picture of it tacked to a board and sent it to them.

The ad depicts a Domino's truck with the word "Dough Fresh off the Semi" above it, next to a picture of a Toppers employee with a bag on his shoulder with the words "Dough made fresh in-house daily" above it. The ad continues with "No making dough in-house? What. The. Truck. Never Settle."

Domino's writes in its letter that Toppers "has no authorization to use the Domino's logo in any advertisement" and that the use of the logo "in this fashion is damaging to our brand, unlawful and an infringement of our federally registered trademark."

Duluth Toppers franchise owner Jordan DeCaro said Duluth was the first store to use this new advertising campaign by Toppers.

"We just opened, and we wanted to be aggressive with our advertising," he said. "Domino's has the capability of advertising millions of dollars into the market. We don't have that capability, so we have an edge to us, and we feel like we are the best pizza company in the world."

DeCaro said because Toppers doesn't have the millions of dollars for advertising other pizza companies do, their marketing team has to be innovative and have an edge.

"We bust our butts and work hard for our customers, and they are our concern," he said. "We're here for the people, and we are going to continue to serve the people day in and day out."

Toppers founder and CEO Scott Gittrich responded to the cease and desist letter in a blog post Thursday. He said they stand by the ad because it's the truth.

"At Toppers we make our dough from true scratch every single day in the kitchen of every single restaurant ... I can't tell you how proud we are of the decision we've made to continue making our dough this way," Gittrich wrote. "It's not the easiest or cheapest way to do it, that's for sure; but we think it makes us better, and so do thousands and thousands of Toppers Pizza fanatics."

Gittrich said he doesn't plan on backing down and will continue to run the ads.

"I'd rather we keep our focus on pizza and providing quality to our customers, but if I can't stand up for how we do it, no one can," he wrote. "Of course, we have our own attorneys, too. We are completely confident that what we're saying and how we're saying it is not only completely legal and fair, it's the truth."

Toppers is based in Whitewater, Wis., and has 86 franchises around the Midwest including 11 locations in the Twin Cities. DeCaro told the News Tribune he plans on opening two more Toppers locations in the Twin Ports — another in Duluth and one in Superior.

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