A day ago, Scott Van Duzer was just another pizzeria owner. Today he's the talk of the Internet and the country, known as that guy who gave a bear hug to President Obama.
"It's been pretty crazy," Van Duzer, 46, who owns Big Apple Pizza in Fort Pierce, Fla., said to the Palm Beach Post. "I've never been caught up in a moment."
But caught up in a moment he was after Obama stopped by the Florida pizzeria Sunday during a day of campaigning in the Sunshine State.
The president's re-election campaign chose Big Apple Pizza for Obama to engage with the public because Van Duzer touts the importance of donating blood. Van Duzer is also a registered Republican who voted for Obama in 2008 and says he'll cast his ballot for the president in November as well.
"I don't vote party line, I vote who I feel comfortable with, and I do feel extremely comfortable with him," Van Duzer said, according to the Washington Post.
Continue Reading Below
The photo of Van Duzer enveloping Obama in a bear hug made waves across the Internet. Van Duzer, a New York City native, is perhaps the most popular pizzeria owner in the country right now.
"I didn't know I was going to hug the guy," Van Duzer told the Palm Beach Post. "It was something special that I'll never forget."
Van Duzer described the bear hug embrace as "spur of the moment and genuine," according to WPTV.
"I was just overcome with emotion. It seemed like he was a long-lost friend," Van Duzer said. "I put him down quickly and didn't run off with him. It was a controlled state and the environment was nonthreatening."
Despite the attention, Van Duzer said it's back to business as usual at Big Apple Pizza.
"It's a little overwhelming, but I'll be back in my pizza shop [Tuesday,] so it'll be back to normal," he told the Palm Beach Post.
But the hulking pizzeria owner still can't get over his encounter with Obama.
"Never in my wildest imagination ... Waking up on Sunday and having the President walk through the door? That just wasn't one of the options for the day," he said.
Obama praised the pizzeria owner for his dedication to raising awareness for blood donation.
"Here's an example of somebody who is doing well, but he's also giving back. So we just want to say how proud we are of him," the president said, according to the Washington pOST. "I still wonder how he got these biceps, but what we know is that the guy's just got a big heart along with big pecs. So we're very proud of him, and we just want to say thank you for all the great work."
When Obama first entered Big Apple Pizza, he remarked on Van Duzer's jacked physique (the pizzeria owner said he was 6-foot-3 and can bench press 350 pounds.
"Everybody look at these guns," Obama said, pointing to Van Duzer's chest, according to the Washington Post. "If I eat your pizza, will I look like that?"
The president then asked Van Duzer, "Man, are you a powerlifter or what?"
While the bear hug photo was widely viewed on the Internet, the publicity was not entirely positive for Big Apple Pizza.
The Fort Pierce business has been the subject of a boycott over Van Duzer's embracing the president.
"People are saying a lot of bad things and boycotting my restaurant," the pizzeria owner told Politico. "There's no middle line anymore, and that's exactly what's wrong with our country right now."