Florida pizza-shop owner Scott Van Duzer, who was photographed this weekend giving President Obama a giant bear hug, is the subject of a kind profile at Politico today. After his famously enthusiastic embrace of the president, Van Duzer’s Big Apple Pizza & Pasta Restaurant faces a boycott from some in a charged political season. Not surprising. Though high-profile boycotts have more frequently been the tools of the left, as illustrated by this Politico slideshow of past food boycotts, conservatives have been happy to use the tactic lately, most notably staging a “buycott” to offset the left’s boycott of Chick-fil-a this summer.
I’m not a big boycotter, though I respect people’s right to decide to shop wherever they please. In this case, I certainly wouldn’t say a boycott is warranted. Van Duzer’s moment with the president was endearing and sort of fun (though probably not for the Secret Service standing nearby) and he doesn’t seem to be some giant ideologue. Well, giant, but not an ideologue.
Update: Our commenters make a good point that I should have made a distinction between some people in Van Duzer’s community simply choosing other pizza joints above his on their eating-out list and an actual organized boycott, which Politico offers no evidence actually exists. It’s only Van Duzer’s claim of “boycott” cited, which does not a boycott make. I just sort of skimmed over that on the way to my larger point, which is the very sympathetic treatment Van Duzer’s getting from the press in contrast with Chick-fil-a owners, who received nothing near it. Apologies for that; I should have been more precise.
But what’s interesting about the moment is how quickly the press gives us insight into Van Duzer’s character, charity work, and even work-out regimen:
For a guy who biked 1,148 miles in 31 days from Florida to Washington D.C., lifting Obama was a piece of cake — err, a slice of pizza. And Van Duzer says he wasn’t even warmed up.
“I don’t work out that much, man. Usually, it’s about two days per week. The bike ride was my big thing,” Van Duzer said. “I’m starting to go back to the gym right now. I need to start maintaining.”
Van Duzer’s June bike-trek was part of his Van Duzer Foundation, and helped raise awareness for blood donation shortages. Founded in 2008 to support a local firefighter whose house burned down, the foundation has since raised more than $600,000, Van Duzer said. Van Duzer said he rode with a few kids from the Boys and Girls Club and met with U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin to discuss blood shortages.
Van Duzer certainly seems like a nice guy who’s done great work. That kind of information will protect him from the fate of a cartoonish portrayal as a partisan tool bent on hurting his community. I wish Chick-fil-a franchise owners, also small businesspeople, had gotten similar coverage when their livelihoods were threatened by actual government action to ban their businesses based on the owner’s personal beliefs.
Chick-fil-a franchise owner Lauren Silich, of Chicago, had to do her own PR, bolstered mostly by conservative media and some local coverage. She’s a pretty decent analogue for Van Duzer.
In response to the recent controversy regarding an additional location in Logan Square and comments by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, I would like to to invite Mayor Emanuel into my restaurant to meet me, my husband Steve, and my management staff.
We are a family of deep Chicago roots— my husband and I both came from city worker families (Teachers, police, laborers) and Steve is a city worker.
We are not a corporation— we are real people and taxpayers as each Chick-fil-a franchise is independently owned and operated. We are Chicagoans who are dedicated to serving our community. We hold fundraisers for hospitals, school, fallen police, and we donate to a wide variety of causes, including everything from churches to gay and lesbian organizations.
We alone created 97 jobs this past year and our passion is building leaders for further generations, regardless of sexual orientation or beliefs.
Politico did print Silich’s letter at the time, so I’m not picking on them in particular. I just wish the coverage of Chick-fil-a owners, threatened by a far more sinister use of government power and not just a boycott, had been as humanizing as the coverage of Van Duzer has been this week. Instead, they remained mostly faceless and nameless in national news coverage of the story, making it easier for bullying mayors to stomp all over their rights. I try to keep my bias meter from being too sensitive, but over and over, it feels like activists on the left—Occupy vs. Tea Party being the most glaring example— are given more fleshing out, more allowance for foibles, and more basic respect than conservatives.
Though people are welcome to boycott them as they please, I hope both Van Duzer’s and Silich’s businesses continue to thrive.
In other news, Kelly Maher and I are starting a daily show today. From now until the election, we’re going to do about a 20-30 minute videoblog/podcast every day. We’re using Google + Hangouts to do it, and things may be a tad rocky at first. We’re still learning the technology, but it offers a lot of flexibility and opportunity for you to chat with us while we’re on the air. We hope you’ll enjoy it! We’re going to try to shoot every day around 6 p.m. Here’s our Google+ page, which you should get in on, and our YouTube page, where the video will go every day. We’ll also post here, obviously.
We don’t have a name yet. Ideas (and let’s keep it nice)? Here’s yesterday’s pilot.