When Scott Van Duzer welcomed President Obama to his pizza shop Sunday with a massive bearhug, it was the beginning of the end of his anonymity.
Van Duzer, a registered Republican who plans to vote for Obama in November, found himself — and his pizza — entangled in a political firestorm, with reactions displayed in the form of Yelp reviews. So far, Big Apple Pizza has received more than 3,000 reviews from partisans on the left and right.
The Fort Pierce, Fla., restaurant reportedly had just two reviews on Yelp before the president dropped by. One of them, from Aug. 31, 2010, called it "one of the best places to eat in the area!"
But after images of Van Duzer's embrace went viral, the Yelpers got political. Some reviews have reportedly been taken down because they didn't meet Yelp's "content guidelines." Those that remain posted show that during an election year, everything — even a slice — is fair game.
A sample vitriolic, one-star review comes from "Rick B.": "If you were a real republican you would have body slammed the socialist President Obama."
Of course, the president's supporters have also rushed to "rate" Van Duzer's pizza joint. One five-star review even attempted to bring the conversation back round to the pizza before swerving back to the politics: "I have never eaten at Big Apple Pizza...but the people who have seem to LOVE IT!", wrote "Acton C.," adding: "Scott...you are exactly what this country needs...A hardworking independent minded voter!"
All of which has left Big Apple Pizza with what Businessweek.com cheekily called the "least helpful Yelp profile ever." A spokesperson for Yelp tells NPR the site is on the case:
"Although most instances like these do not reach the level of media attention received by Big Apple Pizza, Yelp has proven policies in place to deal with such events: once brought to Yelp's attention, our user operations team will remove reviews determined to violate our Terms of Service and Content Guidelines, including reviews that only attack a business's perceived political ideologies. This way, people can continue to find great local businesses — and even a good slice — based on evaluations of consumer experiences, and not political views."
It's not the first time politics has inspired a gastro-backlash this election cycle. This summer, supporters of same-sex marriage called for a boycott of the fast food chain Chick-fil-A after its president voiced opposition to gay marriage. This time around, it was conservatives who called for a boycott of Big Apple Pizza.
The Yelp war has led to a string of media appearances for Van Duzer, who told The DailyBeast: "Everyone's entitled to their opinion, and you don't have to be ugly with yours."
Though the backlash prompted by the bearhug has been "pretty negative," as one Big Apple Pizza employee told The Salt Tuesday, "the good is outweighing the bad." The restaurant says it has received supportive calls from out of state, and Florida residents are calling in deliveries for their local fire departments and police stations. And while the restaurant wouldn't provide specifics, it says since Sunday, pizza sales are up.
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