Yelp Page for Pizzeria Owner Who Hugged Obama Becomes Political Battleground

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Barack Obama is picked-up and lifted off the ground by Scott Van Duzer, owner of Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Italian Restaurant during an unannounced stop in Ft. Pierce, Fla., Sept. 9, 2012.

It used to be that the only thing partisan about pizza was the battle between New York thin crust and Chicago deep-dish. But one Florida pizzeria owner is finding his shop caught in a squabble between Republicans and Democrats, all because he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to bear hug the president.

While in Fort Pierce, Fla. on Sunday, President Obama dropped into Scott Van Duzer’s Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Italian Restaurant. While making small talk with the 46-year-old pizzeria owner, Obama complimented his physique. He said, “If I eat your pizza, can I get some muscles like that?” Van Duzer told the Daily Beast. And that’s when he decided to flex said muscle and lift the president off the ground in a massive embrace. Thus was one of this election cycle’s great viral images born.

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Van Duzer says he’s a registered Republican but voted for Obama in 2008 and plans to do so again in November. And it was this purported party flip-flop that has fired up the vitriol from both sides of the aisle. “People are saying a lot of bad things and boycotting my restaurant,” Van Duzer told Politico.

Never mind Ohio, you’d think the real battleground right now is the Yelp page for Big Apple Pizza. Before Sunday, the pizzeria appears to have had just two ratings, both allotting it five stars. Since the hug went viral, more than 2,500 comments have poured in — a barrage of one-star and five-star reviews, ranging from sarcastic to angry to complimentary, sent in by people coast-to-coast.

Many users either praised the owner for his boldness or predicted the demise of his business. A Louisiana commenter wrote: “Very poor taste to pick up the President of the United States! Please remember President Obama is someone who is against small businesses!” which was countered with “5 stars for a real American!!” said a user from Camarillo, Calif. One from Mesa, Ariz. wrote a tongue-in-cheek welfare critique: “Best value when you spend the food stamps your neighbor paid for. Rated number one by food stamp users nation wide.”

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Others stuck to the more traditional Yelp use, offering a compliment or critique of the pizza, with varying degrees of authenticity. A one-star review reading “There were flies,” and another of “I saw a rat in the restaurant the other day” are rather unbelievable – health codes do exist for a reason – but even the locals have chimed in. “I find it hysterical that people from California are giving this place 5 Stars – I am in Port St Lucie – and this is cardboard pizza!” one said.

One commenter from Bothell, Wash. added some wisdom to the forum that seems to be overrun by vitriol: “Common sense always trumps politics. That and good food.”

While the comments overwhelmingly skew positive, giving Big Apple Pizza a burgeoning five-star rating, Yelp says that nearly 200 comments — of both the one-star and five-star varieties — had to be removed for violating review guidelines. It’s a symptom, perhaps, of a wider problem. As Van Duzer told Politico, “There’s no middle line anymore, and that’s exactly what’s wrong with our country right now.”

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