La Jolla pizza maker files countersuit against resident over ‘relentless and ongoing campaign of harassment’
In a continued legal back-and-forth, the owner of La Jolla restaurant American Pizza Manufacturing has filed a countersuit against a local resident whom the suit accuses of waging a “relentless and ongoing campaign of harassment” against the restaurant while “libeling [APM and] ... unfairly interfering with APM’s business.”
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court on Jan. 3, seeks damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
In November, the resident, Ajay Thakore, who also goes by the name Ace Rogers, filed his own suit in federal court against APM and owner Andrew Melone, accusing Melone of racial harassment, false advertising and prohibiting use of a public parking space.
Thakore’s suit states he was engaged in a “peaceful and orderly protest” against American Pizza Manufacturing and 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.”
Thakore’s suit, which seeks $10 million in damages, has yet to be heard in court.
American Pizza Manufacturing, which opened in July 2020 at 7402 La Jolla Blvd., offers pizzas that are assembled in the store for customers to bake at home.
Melone’s suit claims that starting in October 2020, Thakore “verbally harassed APM’s owners, employees and customers, posted more than a hundred negative and fake online reviews, made objectively false and inflammatory statements on social media accusing APM of, among other things, animal abuse and ‘hating people of color,’ paid others through online solicitations to harass APM” and parked vehicles in front of the business that displayed derogatory messages about “take ‘n’ bake pizza.”
Planes also flew over the pizzeria pulling banners with similar messages, according to the lawsuit.
“The volume and timing of the negative reviews are indicative of a coordinated effort to target the company,” Melone’s suit states. “The falsity of the reviews were evident in part by making claims such as APM selling burnt pizza, when the business does not even cook the pizza.”
The complaint accuses Thakore, who owns a digital marketing firm in University City called Doctor Multimedia, of using social media to encourage people to call APM and “give them your opinion of them,” with the “first 10 people get[ting] $100.” Another post offered to pay for up to $100 worth of food from another La Jolla pizzeria, according to the suit.
Thakore, who has said he is “of Indian descent from the country of India,” told the La Jolla Light that Melone used racial slurs against him and “refused service to me, and one of his customers kicked my three-legged handicapped dog.”
His lawsuit says “[Melone] and his business discriminate against anyone that appears to be of Arab or Asian descent ... as well as members of the LGBQTIA community.”
Melone denies those claims.
“It’s disheartening to have to defend against an antagonistic assault on our integrity,” Melone said in a statement to the Light. “We hope that as the true nature of the events in question are revealed, it will put an end to such behavior targeted at APM and other small businesses like ours. In the interim, we can’t thank the people of La Jolla enough for their understanding as we work diligently to resolve this unfortunate matter. We are beyond proud to be part of such an incredible community.”
According to Melone’s lawsuit, the dispute between the two started when the city of San Diego converted the parking spaces outside APM to a 15-minute zone and Thakore “would illegally park ... in public 15-minute parking spaces for hours at a time and ... for extended periods in the red zone outside of APM.”
“Thakore was unhappy with the parking zone changes because it somehow impeded his ability to frequent other La Jolla business establishments,” the suit claims.
Thakore did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.
Melone’s lawyers declined to comment and Thakore’s did not respond to requests. ◆
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