WASHINGTON — An American pizza restaurant owner who was photographed giving President Barack Obama a hearty bear hug got an online beating on Monday from angry opponents of the US leader.
Scott Van Duzer, owner of Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Italian Restaurant in Fort Pierce, Florida, made headlines Sunday after he lifted Obama in the air as the two men greeted each other like old buddies during a campaign tour stop.
Footage of the moment in the key swing state soon went viral.
But, along with the laughs, the incident also sparked sneers.
Comments posted on Yelp, a website that allows consumers to rate businesses, lambasted Van Duzer and suggested the photo opportunity was set up by Democrats vying to secure a second term in the White House.
“I would NEVER eat here after seeing that idiot grab the man that thinks HE built my business instead of me,” wrote Shawn from California, referring to a common allegation that Obama does not understand private enterprise.
“And NO WAY did this bear hug just happen. It was planned for weeks. If Obama showed up at my business, he would be shown the door.”
“Do you honestly believe this wasn’t staged? The secret service would never let anyone grab Obama let alone pick him up off the ground,” echoed DS from Spokane, Washington.
“Another BS photo op to try and prove he is looking out for the little guy.”
Other reviews, including one by Mike A., were taken offline for violating the Yelp’s content guidelines.
“I’d eat there but after seeing the owner grab our leftist President I felt compelled to disrespect his establishment as much as the President disrespects our constitution,” CBS News quoted Mike A. as saying.
As word spread of the critical posts, a counter-offensive took hold.
By the late afternoon Monday, entries were abuzz with positive feedback for Van Duzer, and calls on those criticizing him to call it quits.
“Giving you five stars for being a human being before anything else — democratic or republican,” wrote Pepper T. from Santa Rosa, California.
“For someone to give you a low rating because you hugged President Obama is a reflection of the sad state of this country.”
Rich T. of Los Angeles, meanwhile, claimed that the negative reviews came from individuals who have never eaten at the establishment but “have an irrational hatred of President Obama.”
“Get a life, people!” he added.
Van Duzer himself seemed to be taking the stir in his stride, telling CNN that he was moved by Obama’s visit.
“I was extremely honored and touched and it was an incredible day,” he said.
“This could have been just another stop on his bus tour … it felt like he wanted to come here, he wanted to make a difference in our daily life here and he did.”
Obama said he had stopped his black armored bus at the pizza shop as Van Duzer had mobilized a huge community blood donors operation, receiving commendations from the White House and the US surgeon general.
Many negative reviews appeared to have been triggered when Van Duzer told reporters that he had voted for Obama in 2008 and planned to do so again in November — despite being registered with the rival Republican Party.
“I don’t vote party line, I vote who I feel comfortable with, and I do feel extremely comfortable with him,” Van Duzer said.