Small-Business Squeeze: Obama Gets a GOP Hug
Well, now we know there’s at least one Republican small-business owner feeling some love for President Obama this year.
Scott Van Duzer, the owner of Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Italian restaurant in Fort Pierce, Florida, says he felt an outpouring of affection when Obama made an unexpected visit Sunday during his state bus tour. Obama and Duzer shook hands, and then Duzer suddenly hoisted the President up for a massive bear hug.
The image was caught on camera and landed on the front page of The New York Times (accompanied by a caption saying, "The Secret Service allows this?").
"It was like I had known the guy for 20 years," Van Duzer, who says he is a registered Republican, tells Inc. "He felt like he wanted to be there, like he was a friend of mine, and we were hanging out and talking. Then all of a sudden, I gave him a big hug."
After he put the President back down, Van Duzer says, he and Obama discussed the state of his business: "He looked me in the eye and said, 'I'm really proud of the work you’re doing here,' and he shook my hand."
Van Duzer says he has worked at Big Apple Pizza almost his whole life. He began working there in 1981, when he was 15, and he purchased the shop in 1992, when he was 26. Despite his party ties, he says, he voted for Obama in 2008--on the basis of just his "gut feeling."
"I don’t think I made a mistake, because I saw that enthusiasm when he walked through the door," Van Duzer says."He wants to make this place better."
As for that Secret Service question: Although The New York Times reported that Van Duzer had received permission from the Secret Service in advance, the pizzeria owner insists he didn't plan to lift Obama at all. His excitement, he says, just got the better of him.
"You couldn’t even dream of something like that," says Van Duzer, who says he was playing golf when his store manager called and told him to get down to the restaurant immediately. "I was just sitting there minding my own business, just hitting some golf balls. And 20 minutes later, I've got the President of the United States up in the air."
Since the photo and story emerged Sunday afternoon, the eatery has received more than 2,000 new reviews on Yelp, compared with just two before the weekend. Though many appear to be politically motivated--from across the spectrum--a majority of the reviews have been five stars.
As an added bonus, Van Duzer says Big Apple Pizza and Pasta has seen a nice sales boost since entering the national spotlight two days ago. "I guess Obama stimulated a small business," he said. "How about that?"