Cheesed-Off New Yorker Sues Over Pasta Purveyor’s ‘Deceptive’ Ravioli
As the earth’s atmosphere boils us alive and World War III inches closer and closer to horrifying reality, a New York City man is suing a venerable local food purveyor over its “5 Cheese Ravioli,” which he says contains a mere four cheeses.
Arnold Wachtel, 62, alleges Ottomanelli Bros. Inc. has committed fraud, negligence, engaged in false advertising, and perpetrated “deceptive acts” in claiming the product actually has five cheeses.
The ingredients on the box give away the game, shorting consumers who trust the front of the package, but may not take the time to read the back, Wachtel argues in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in New York State Supreme Court,
“The Ravioli ingredient list reflects only four cheeses: 1) Ricotta, 2) Pecorino romano, 3) Mozzarella, and 4) Parmesan,” the suit states.
However, Ottomanelli’s duplicity goes even further, shorting the public with just four individual ravioli, rather than the five pieces shown on the packaging, Wachtel argues.
“The phrase ‘5 Cheese Ravioli’ placed above a picture of five ravioli, coupled with the defendant’s intentional omission of a hyphen between ‘5’ and ‘Cheese,’ implies to reasonable consumers that the defendant includes five ravioli in the packages like the ones purchased by Plaintiff,” the suit says. “A hyphen would be needed to modify (i.e., compound modifier) ‘Ravioli’ to act as an adjective if the defendant(s) meant to refer to the number of cheeses in the ravioli.”
Wachtel told The Daily Beast that he first suspected he was being ripped off about 12 months ago, thinking to himself “that it was possibly false advertising.”
“The initial issue was the quantity of the ravioli, but then it came to our attention that there weren’t actually five cheeses in the ravioli,” Wachtel’s attorney Jesse Langel, who considers himself “a zealous food label, consumer product lawyer,” added, “If you’re calling it ‘five cheese,’ you have to have five cheeses. How can you claim five cheeses, when there’s only four cheeses?”
Reached by phone, Frank Ottomanelli, whose grandfather started Ottomanelli Bros. in 1900, expressed disbelief over the details contained in Wachtel’s lawsuit.
“People really sue for this stuff? Wow,” he told The Daily Beast. “You can’t make this shit up.”
In his lawsuit, Wachtel—who owned a pair of Times Square gag and novelty shops, the Fun Emporium and the Funny Store, back before the area’s Disneyfication—claims he bought some 20 boxes of Ottomanelli’s 5 Cheese Ravioli over the past year, at prices ranging from $6.99 to $7.49.
“[T]he plaintiff has suffered monetary harm (overpayment due to higher price because of the misrepresentation, time, and effort expended) and non-monetary harm, including disappointment, frustration, trust erosion, and dietary concerns,” the suit states.
In addition to Ottomanelli Bros. proper, Wachtel’s lawsuit names a “John Doe” whose “identity is currently unknown but believed to be an employee or representative of an advertising agency involved in creating and developing the deceptive label.”
Wachtel was “just bothered” by what he saw as gross misrepresentations, according to Lengel, who said he “felt the need to address the issue because Mr. Wachtel felt strongly about it.” After conducting a series of informal focus groups to get reactions from others regarding the veracity of the 5-cheese claim, Lengel felt the case was ready to go.
“The thing is with advertising, you have to communicate the truth,” Lengel said, adding that Ottomanelli will now have the opportunity to defend itself against Wachtel’s claim. “These are only accusations, this is not a finding of liability.”
Wachtel, who today runs a business helping New York City residents obtain pistol permits, is seeking punitive damages of $50,000, plus interest and costs.
“I’d like to see the packaging changed to accurately reflect what the consumer is receiving for their money,” he told The Daily Beast.
In 2008, Wachtel sued the NYPD for false arrest after a team of detectives locked him up over the Funny Store’s alleged sales of fake IDs. (The case was later settled out of court.) In 2017, Wachtel sued a Manhattan restaurant, claiming he bit down on a pebble that made its way into his bowl of bulgur wheat. (The case was settled the following year.)
Lengel is aware that some may view the ravioli case as “trivial or innocuous,” but said he believes Wachtel’s challenge “is necessary to ensure a fair marketplace and redress a wrong.”
Yet, in the end, it may be Ottomanelli Bros. who walk away the winners. Reached by phone, CEO Nick Ottomanelli at first told The Daily Beast he was unaware that a lawsuit had been filed, and said he needed to check in with his “guy in the prepared foods division” for answers. An hour later, he called back and pointed to the fifth cheese listed in the 5 Cheese Ravioli ingredients, which apparently went unnoticed by Wachtel: impastata, a slightly sweet form of ricotta normally used in cannoli. Ottomanelli did not address the issue of four pieces of ravioli vs. five.
However, there is a missing comma between the previous ingredient listed, eggs, and impastata, which Lengel duly pointed out.
“To the extent there lacks a comma due to error or intention, and whether or not that would clarify the messaging to a reasonable consumer are issues left open,” he said.
Ottomanelli Bros. opened in 1900 as a small West Village butcher shop. It has, over the years, expanded and contracted with the times, at one point operating several markets and cafes around New York, including one inside the Macy’s Herald Square flagship store. Today, Ottomanelli Bros. has a storefront on the Upper East Side, with a line of sauces, seasonings, pastas, and prepared foods available in area supermarkets.
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