Jeffrey Zucker Quoted in Philadelphia Inquirer About Mister Softee Litigation

By Troy Graham
Inquirer Staff Writermister-softee-fights-pretenders

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but not if you’re appropriating the trademarks of the iconic Camden County-based Mister Softee to sell knock-off ice cream.

Every summer, legions of imposter ice cream trucks take to the streets, painted a familiar blue and white and accompanied by that treacly jingle, the one with a Pavlovian effect on children everywhere.

And, since 1998, Mister Softee has fought back.

“If you’re just starting out and you have an ice cream truck, why not paint it blue and white?” said Jeffrey Zucker, Mister Softee’s attorney. “When your customers are little kids and they see a blue-and-white truck, you can get the sales.”

Last summer, Mister Softee filed lawsuits against 28 pretenders, 25 of them in New York City. This week, the company settled a suit against a North Jersey company it thought had modeled its trucks a little too closely on Mister Softee’s.

The settlement was typical: Danny’s Soft Serve agreed to repaint its trucks, stop using Mister Softee imagery, and pay legal fees of about $4,000, Zucker said.

Dennis Gleason, the attorney for Danny’s Soft Serve, said his client settled as a “business solution” and admitted no wrongdoing.

Danny’s has its own ice cream caricatures and its own jingle, he said. Mister Softee objected to the use of generic phrases on Danny’s truck such as “cones, shakes and sundaes.”

“We’re not looking to be them,” Gleason said. “It’s like saying, ‘I had the first pizzeria, so you can’t put the word pizza . . . on the window.’ ”

Mister Softee doesn’t go after punitive damages in these cases.

“You can compete, but be legal about it,” Zucker said. “We just want people to change.”

Mister Softee, founded in 1956 in West Philadelphia, has 600 privately owned trucks in 15 states. The company, which has its headquarters in Runnemede, is run by cousins James and John Conway, sons of the two founders.

Franchisees pay an initial fee and an annual royalty, and get to drive official Mister Softee trucks, with their trademarked ice cream, cartoon logos and jingle.

The vehicles are so familiar that in a company-commissioned survey, 79 percent of people shown a picture of a plain blue-and-white truck thought it was Mister Softee’s, Zucker said.

He said the Conways would rather not have to pursue lawsuits against imposters.

“It’s expensive,” he said. “But we have an obligation to our franchisees.”

Zucker said they have sued more than 40 impostors in some summers, but the number has been dropping.

“We’ve actually made a dent,” he said.

The company has not sued anyone in Philadelphia in several years, he said, but the city can still claim the boldest knock-off – a truck that was branded “Mustafa Softee” back in 1998.

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