$10 million lawsuit against La Jolla pizza restaurant alleges harassment and discrimination

American Pizza Manufacturing opened at 7402 La Jolla Blvd. in July 2020.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Claiming harassment, discrimination and attempts to interfere with a “peaceful and orderly protest,” a La Jolla resident is suing local restaurant American Pizza Manufacturing for $10 million.

The suit was filed Nov. 10 in U.S. District Court by Gopher Media LLC (formerly known as Local Clicks doing business as Doctor Multimedia) and Ajay Thakore, who also goes by the name Ace Rogers. The complaint names American Pizza Manufacturing and its owner, Andrew Melone, as defendants.

The suit accuses Melone of racial harassment, false advertising and prohibiting use of a public parking space.

Melone’s and Thakore’s legal representatives are entering negotiations this week and did not respond to requests for comment.

But Melone said in a statement Dec. 6 that “every claim in this frivolous lawsuit is baseless and untrue.”

“We’re a small, family business doing our best to serve the La Jolla community during a very challenging time for everyone,” he said. “It’s troubling that we’re being dragged into this situation.”

Thakore could not immediately be reached for comment.

The lawsuit describes Thakore as “of Indian descent from the country of India” and says “[Melone] and his business discriminate against anyone that appears to be of Arab or Asian descent to include but not limited to those of Indian descent like Thakore as well as members of the LGBQTIA community.” While there are several references to the LGBQTIA community, the suit does not specify whether Thakore is included in that group.

American Pizza Manufacturing, which opened at 7402 La Jolla Blvd. in July 2020, offers pizzas that are assembled in the store for customers to bake at home.

The lawsuit alleges the business uses false advertising by claiming everything sold there is made fresh onsite, though the suit says the cauliflower crust is purchased from an outside vendor.

The suit also claims Melone tries to stop people from parking in front of the pizzeria unless they are customers, though the spaces in front of the business are for 15-minute public parking.

The dispute between the two parties started when one person, apparently using bots — a type of online automation — wrote a series of disparaging things on social media about American Pizza Manufacturing and Melone. Soon after, signs with messages such as “Take it baked” started appearing in support of other area pizzerias, and someone often parked a car in the spaces near American Pizza Manufacturing. More recently, an SUV bearing a derogatory phrase about “take ‘n’ bake pizza” has repeatedly been seen parked in front of the restaurant.

This vehicle often has been seen parked in front of American Pizza Manufacturing on La Jolla Boulevard in recent months.
(Courtesy photo)

The lawsuit states Thakore engaged in a “peaceful and orderly protest” protected by free-speech rights, though it does not state specifics of the protest. The complaint claims Melone “threatens and harasses … anyone that exercises their First Amendment right to protest against American Pizza Manufacturing or express an opinion about American Pizza Manufacturing, its business practices, the quality or lack of quality of food.”

The suit also alleges that Thakore has been subjected to harassment and that Melone used racial slurs and profanity against him. The complaint additionally claims that an “agent of American Pizza Manufacturing” kicked Thakore’s dog while he was patronizing another business.

The suit contends Thakore has suffered “physical sickness and injury [and] severe emotional distress” and seeks compensation for medical expenses connected to those issues.

It also asks for a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction preventing anyone connected to American Pizza Manufacturing from claiming Thakore is “not a reputable person or that his business and its employees … are not reputable,” and it seeks $10 million in “actual and compensatory damages ... and/or an amount to be proven at trial.” ◆