A federal court judge banned Master Softee from operating its rogue fleet of ice cream trucks that blatantly rip off the Mister Softee brand — but so far, the Master’s rapscallion cast of dessert vendors refuses to budge.
The June 5 ruling was a score for Mister Softee. The summertime treat powerhouse had sued its former franchisee, Dimitrios Tsirkos, who runs his buggies in Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx out of a depot in Long Island City.
The 53-year-old Woodside businessman painted his vehicles in a familiar-looking red, white and blue color scheme and included a grinning, cone-headed mascot — making the truck difficult to differentiate from a Mister Softee four-wheeler.
“It is obvious that (Tsirkos) adopted his truck designs with the object of achieving an appearance similar to plaintiff’s Mister Softee trucks,” Judge Laura Taylor Swain wrote in court papers. “The trucks are designed to appeal to children, who are relatively unsophisticated consumers.”
Swain barred Tsirkos from using the name Master Softee or any other confusing names or marks, and prohibited Tsirkos from involvement in any facet of theretail ice cream industry within 5 miles of his former Mister Softee franchise territories until February 2016.
Still, the Daily News spotted Master Softee trucks over the weekend on Sixth Ave., in Greenwich Village, and along Broadway in Astoria. Mister Softee co-owner Jim Conway said that a private eye retained by his company counted 10 of the trucks on Saturday and Sunday in Manhattan.
“These guys are bad guys on all levels,” said Conway, whose family founded the New Jersey-based chain in 1956. “We don’t have an alternative but to work through the court system. Conway and his lawyer, Jeff Zucker, have spent more than a decade suing knockoff Mister Softee ice cream trucks. They say they have never lost a case.
Tsirkos’ attorney, Nicholas Damadeo, wouldn’t explain why the illegal sugar-loving crew appeared to be ignoring the court’s order. “The case is still proceeding,” Damadeo said, adding the ban is not permanent and Tsirkos can file an appeal. “That’s one of the avenues that is available.”
Meanwhile, Mister Softee investigators plan to submit photographs of Master Softee trucks in action, hoping that Swain will come down on Tsirkos. “They are violating the judge’s orders,” Conway said.