Shortly after Herman Cain’s team announced the death of the former presidential candidate and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Trump tweeted about another pizza business — noticably not posting a tribute to Cain, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 after he attended a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“Support Patio Pizza and its wonderful owner, Guy Caligiuri,” the president wrote in his tweet. Before Trump gave a shoutout to Caligiuri, the pizza shop owner appeared on Fox News and talked about being targeted after flying a Trump flag at the back of his restaurant.
Support Patio Pizza and its wonderful owner, Guy Caligiuri, in St. James, Long Island (N.Y.). Great Pizza!!! @Varneyco
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020
Here’s what you need to know about Caligiuri and his restaurant, Patio Pizza:
1. Caligiuri Said He Was Targeted After Flying a Trump Flag
In an interview with Fox News’ Varney & Co. on July 30, Patio Pizza owner Caligiuri said he and his business were being targeted because he flew a “Keep America Great” flag in the back of his restaurant.
On July 24, a customer went to pick up an order and found that Caligiuri was flying a Trump flag in back of the store. “She took offense to that,” Caligiuri told host Stuart Varney. “And said she was the administrator of a Facebook page, and she was gonna post it online, and she was gonna drive me out of business.”
Caligiuri said he had “seen a lot” in his 43 years in the business and would usually ignore such incidents, which Varney described as “cancel culture” in the show.
“I think he’s a fantastic president, I think he’s done a great job, and I think it’s my right to support him and to show my support of him,” Caligiuri told Varney.
“But, this woman took it upon herself to — not knowing me, not knowing my family, not knowing my grandchildren — she took it upon herself because she saw a flag in the back to try to put me out of business,” he said in the interview.
The next day, Caligiuri said he began to receive calls and text messages about this customer posting “nasty things” about him and “asking the community to boycott Patio Pizza.” However, Business Insider said the customer’s post only indicated that she wouldn’t go to this restaurant anymore.
The customer, whose identity was not disclosed by Business Insider, said in the interview that she didn’t call for a boycott and her original post was being distorted.
Screenshots of the customer’s post were quickly spread among local Facebook groups in Saint James, Long Island, and Caligiuri said customers “from all over Long Island” showed up at Patio Pizza in support of him, according to Fox News.
“It was like a spontaneous Trump rally in front of my store,” he told Business Insider. He said he would continue to support the president “inside and outside his restaurant.”
2. There Have Been Mixed Reactions to the Controversy
After news about the incident circulated, Caligiuri told Fox News that he received support from his local community. People have stopped by and dined at Patio Pizza in the past few days, and some of them shared their support on Facebook.
A woman named Darleen Ragazzi-Cammarata wrote on Facebook that she was “in support of the Patio Pizza and President Trump.” A car with a Trump flag drove by the restaurant on the evening of July 29, receiving a round of applause from diners.
Dee Marie shared a message that she said was from Caligiuri on the Facebook page of Setauket Patriots, and the message received an outpouring of supportive comments, including Jeff Vitkun’s:
I grew up in Saint James. Born 1964. When Patio Pizza came to town, this was my favorite place in all of town to go. Always so friendly, awesome food and I loved their customer picture wall! I now live on the south shore of Suffolk. I miss this place but anytime I’m in the area, I have to stop in just to get a slice or two. This place is nothing but respect and love for it’s community. Tell the Smithtown Mom’s that with all their drama, we will add another big time drama show to TV staring all of them! Patio Pizza, you and your staff rocks! I will be in soon to show my support to you also! Love you guys!!!!
The administrator of the Setauket Patriots page also wrote that there had been a “great turnout of Patriots for our Pizza party to support Patio Pizza.”
Caligiuri told the Business Insider that there had been “an 87% to 100% spike” in his business since the controversy began. However, there’s also backlash on Twitter, and Trump’s endorsement even trigged negative reviews written on July 30 on the restaurant’s Yelp page.
Karyn P. wrote on Yelp that Patio Pizza was “horrible, dirty and the service was subpar,” while some other reviews are more directly related to the president’s Twitter earlier: “Illegally promoted by the president. With 150,000 dead, the president actually had time to talk about this pizza spot, so it must be good? Maybe, but there’s other great spots on Long Island,” Goat C. wrote.
Yelp has issued an “unusual activity alert” on its website and says it’s monitoring Patio Pizza for “content related to media reports.”
3. Patio Pizza Has Been in Business Since 1977 & Caligiuri Inherited It From His Dad
Located in Saint James, a hamlet in Long Island, New York, Patio Pizza, sometimes also called Patio Italian Kitchen, is a family-owned Italian restaurant that has been in business since 1977, according to its website. Its previous owner was the late Amedeo Caligiuri, father of Guy Caligiuri.
Amedeo had five brothers and they began to sell pizza in the early 1960s, according to a Newsday article shared by the restaurant on its Facebook page. He bought Patio Pizza in 1977.
After their father retired, Guy ran the restaurant with his sister Laura Shann and his brother Teddy. He told Newsday that his father taught him to “never cut corners.” Amedeo died in 2009, according to Newsday.
Journalist Soledad O’Brien said on Twitter that she “grew up eating Patio Pizza,” but “NYC pizza is far better.” In a Grub Street article, author Alan Sytsma said one of his colleagues “lived a few minutes away from Patio Pizza,” but hadn’t heard about it until the morning of July 30, when news about the restaurant started to circulate.
“So it is safe to assume it is not exactly a beloved local institution,” Sytsma wrote.
4. Patio Pizza Has Been Involved in Feeding Healthcare Workers During the Pandemic
Since the pandemic, Patio Pizza has partnered with community members to donate pizza to healthcare workers. It has worked with Delia Nietzel and donated 400 meals to Stony Brook Hospital and the Long Island State Veteran Home, according to the restaurant’s Facebook.
It has also worked with local businesses and donated to Smithtown Health Care. The Saint James fire department donated 80 dinners to the Saint Catherine of Siena Hospital in late April through Patio Pizza as well.
The customer involved in the Facebook controversy told Business Insider that she “appreciated Caligiuri’s philanthropy within the St. James community,” but his support of Trump was “a line in the sand that she would not cross.”
“I choose to vote with my money. I don’t assume that I can persuade anybody to change their views,” she said. “I just think it’s valuable knowledge to know which businesses share your values and which don’t.”
5. Caligiuri Once Published a Letter & Said Small Restaurants Like His Were ‘at a Disadvantage’
In a 2015 letter that was published on Newsday, Caligiuri complained about “state and federal government officials are unfairly targeting and harassing” small restaurants, including his Patio Pizza.
Despite doing “a great service to their communities,” he argued, small restaurants were at a disadvantage and their owners were “portrayed as criminals preying on immigrants here illegally and young workers by not paying them overtime or the minimum wage.”
Caligiuri said a “mentally disabled individual” that made pizza boxes for him told officials that he worked for Caligiuri 100 hours a week when in fact, he only worked a few hours every week. But officials believed that and told Caligiuri he owed the worker $30,000.
“We are being targeted and taxed to the point where it’s difficult to stay in business. In all seriousness, it’s like the KGB,” he wrote.
In a recent interview with Business Insider, Caligiuri said President Trump “dragged the economy out of the gutter.”
“I think he’s done a fantastic job for this country. I feel really bad that he’s not recognized for it. My life is better today than it was four years ago. I’m sorry, but that’s all I really care about,” he said.