Why did a tiny Long Island pizzeria get Trump's stamp of approval? Thank roiling local Facebook drama and a well-timed Fox Business segment

Patio Pizza/Facebook and Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • United States President Donald Trump tweeted his support for a Long Island pizzeria on Thursday.
  • Business Insider spoke with Patio Pizza owner Guy Caligiuri about how his St. James, New York eatery ended up on the president's radar.
  • Caligiuri spoke about how his restaurant gained publicity from Fox Business after a customer complained about his pro-Trump "Keep America Great Flag" on Facebook.
  • The pizzeria owner said that customers across Long Island turned out for a "spontaneous Trump rally in front of my store" in response.
  • Business Insider also spoke to the woman in question, who said the incident was distorted by conservative media.
  • "We have 150,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus," she said. "Kids are still locked in cages. And yet we're focused on something so silly as a pizza parlor."

President Donald Trump tweeted a ringing endorsement of a small Long Island pizzeria and catering service on Thursday. The president, who has never dined at Patio Pizza, even shouted out owner Guy Caligiuri by name.

Caligiuri isn't a big-name Republican donor, national business figure, or MAGA ambassador. At first glance, Patio Pizza seems far removed from the churn of Trump's social media feed. It's a restaurant that's spent 43 years serving Italian cuisine to diners in the quiet Long Island hamlet of St. James. Recently, the eatery's Facebook page has posted pictures of savory treats donated to veterans living in nursing homes and frontline workers at Stony Brook Hospital.

The story behind how Patio Pizza ended up on the United States president's Twitter feed involves drama spilling over between different Long Island-centric Facebook pages, Fox News Media's continuous coverage of "cancel culture," and Trump's own penchant for boosting friendly businesses.Advertisement

But really, it all started with a photo of a blue "Keep America Great" flag.

Business Insider called up Patio Pizza and spoke with Caligiuri about the sequence of events that propelled his restaurant to the global stage. He said that on Friday night, a customer became upset over the "Keep America Great" flag hanging by the back door of his restaurant.

"I had put it up on my porch, but my wife was worried about people coming down and burning it," he said.
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According to Caligiuri, the customer told his employees that the pizzeria had just lost a customer over the flag.

"I just brushed it off," he said. "I'm in business 43 years. Whatever. Just go away."

'A spontaneous Trump rally'

The following day, Caligiuri said his phone was inundated with texts and calls from friends. The woman was an administrator on a local mom-centric Facebook page, and she had posted a photo of the flag. Caligiuri said the post called for a boycott of Patio Pizza, although Business Insider reviewed a screenshot that indicated the woman simply said that she would not spend her money at the restaurant anymore. Advertisement

Screenshots of the woman's post began bleeding into other local Facebook pages. And the backlash, it turns out, was largely directed toward the customer, not the restaurant.

Caligiuri said that he received an outpouring of support of individuals calling and swinging by to say "they're here to support me, my flag, and my president" in the following days. The pizzeria owner said the level of support, along with visits from customers "from all over Long Island," left him feeling emotional. At one point, a pick-up truck driver brandishing a large Trump flag drove down the street, receiving a standing ovation from diners at Patio Pizza.

"It was like a spontaneous Trump rally in front of my store," he said. Advertisement

The notoriety ended up filling the pizzeria's namesake patio with diners, and Caligiuri credited the post with an 87% to 100% spike in business in the days since the Facebook controversy began. On Sunday, Caligiuri expressed his thanks for the "overwhelming" support in a Facebook post that went viral.

That's when the local St. James drama spilled onto the national stage. British-American political pundit Stuart Varney invited Caligiuri on his Varney & Co. show on the Fox Business Network.

On the show, Varney equated Caligiuri's experience to an instance of "cancel culture." Advertisement

"This woman took it upon herself — 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 put me out of business," Caligiuri said.

Business Insider tracked down the customer who posted about the flag at Patio Pizza. She spoke with us about the incident, and about the mischaracterization of her initial post. Business Insider is choosing to keep the customer anonymous due to fears over retaliation and stalking.

The diner said that she had been a frequent Patio Pizza customer in the past, and that her conversation with the employees in the store was courteous. The woman said her post only expressed her intent to never support Patio Pizza again, and that it did not call for a boycott. She said that while she appreciated Caligiuri's philanthropy within the St. James community, a business owner's support of Trump was a "line in the sand" that she would not cross.Advertisement

"I choose to vote with my money," she said. "I don't assume that I can persuade anybody to change their views. I just think it's valuable knowledge to know which businesses share your values and which don't."

For his part, Caligiuri said he will continue to support Trump inside and outside his restaurant. He credited the president with dragging the economy out of "the gutter." In April 2015, Newsday published a letter from the pizzeria owner decrying how small business owners were being "targeted and taxed to the point where it's difficult to stay in business.""I think he's done a fantastic job for this country," he said. "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."Advertisement

'Something so silly as a pizza parlor'

Patio Pizza isn't the president's first surprising or controversial endorsement. Trump and his officials have made a point of promoting businesses with MAGA-friendly owners. Earlier this month, Trump and his daughter and adviser Ivanka posted with Goya products on social media, after the bean company's founder received criticism online for supporting the Republican president. On the other side, activists have called for boycotts against companies perceived to support the president and his agenda.

Now, in the wake of Trump's tweet, Caligiuri has gotten calls from supporters in California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, and New Jersey. The restaurant's website has crashed due to a surge in traffic.

Not all the attention has been positive, though. Trolls on Yelp have taken notice of Patio Pizza, tagging the restaurant in photos of Trump, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell. But Caligiuri said he's not afraid of any backlash. When asked if he felt if the Facebook pile-on against his critic was an instance of "cancel culture," he said he thought the reaction was funny, at first.Advertisement

"But I would never want to divulge her name or want harm to come to her in any way," he said.

For her part, the customer said it was "absolutely absurd" seeing the president weigh in on a North Shore pizzeria fracas from the White House.

"We have 150,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus," she said. "Kids are still locked in cages. And yet we're focused on something so silly as a pizza parlor. I think he has better things that he could probably be spending his time on."Advertisement

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