Grotto Pizza cancels Republican Senate candidate Lauren Witzke’s occasion
Here are some of the top stories we’re following for Friday, October 9, 2020.
Grotto Pizza announced on Friday afternoon that it canceled a political meet-and-greet for U.S. Senate candidate Lauren Witzke, a Republican running against incumbent Democrat Chris Coons, at one of its restaurants in Wilmington.
“Over the past 24 hours, we were informed a private event scheduled in our Pennsylvania Avenue location this evening was actually a political ‘meet and greet’ and actively being promoted by the event organizer,” reads the Facebook post from Grotto Pizza announcing the decision.
“Once this information was confirmed, we reached out to the organizer of the event to inform them Grotto Pizza will not allow the event to proceed in our restaurant.”
The post said Grotto Pizza believes in being “politically neutral.”
“We do not allow campaign events in any of our locations and do not support any specific candidates in any elections,” the post reads.
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Republican candidate for US Senate Lauren Witzke campaigns with the “Trump Bus” on Pulaski Highway in Glasgow Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. The event was one of a series of campaign appearances with the Trump-themed recreational vehicle. (Photo: William Bretzger, Delaware News Journal)
The post also says that the chain “welcomes a community of diversity which includes differences in age, sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and political perspective.”
Less than an hour after Grotto Pizza’s social media announcement, Witzke tweeted about the cancellation.
“Due to persistent harassment from a few loud and rabid far-leftists, @Grottos_pizza has decided to cancel our event this evening,” Witzke’s tweet said. “We had about 30 paying customers registered to attend.”
UPDATE: Due to persistent harassment from a few loud and rabid far-leftists, @Grottos_pizza has decided to cancel our event this evening. We had about 30 paying customers registered to attend.
We are not deterred, but it’s a shame that Democrats are hindering..
— Lauren Witzke (@LaurenWitzkeDE) October 9, 2020
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In an email to Delaware Online/The News Journal, Witzke wrote: “While we respect Grottos’ right as a private business to refuse service, I personally spoke with a Grottos representative Thursday evening, and told him in no uncertain terms that we were holding a political event, at which point the Grottos representative did not inform us about their company policy against hosting political candidates.”
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The cancellation came two days after a petition surfaced on Change.org pushing back on the event. The petition was titled “Do Not Mix Pizza With Hate Groups” and as of Friday afternoon had 294 supporters, according to its webpage. The petition was created by a group called “People of Delaware.”
Jeffrey Gosnear, vice president of Grotto Pizza Inc., said they learned that the event was political after several customers called. The pizza chain did not know the event was being hosted for political reasons because it was booked under an individual’s name and not as a political function, he said.
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“We don’t have political events in our restaurants,” Gosnear said. “If we had known that it was a political meet-and-greet prior to them booking it, we would have told them up-front that we can’t do that.”
He said that, especially during the pandemic, Grotto Pizza always wants “as much business as they could get.” But this particular event went against their rule prohibiting political gatherings, which was put in place after the midterm elections in 2018, he said.
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“Especially with as many locations that we have in the state, we need to be politically neutral,” Gosnear said. “We want to treat everyone the exact same way.”
Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. You can reach her at (302) 324-2281 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.
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