FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Scott Van Duzer 's hulking hug with President Barack Obama on Sunday was the embrace felt around the world, garnering Fort Pierce global attention, the iconic image landing on the front page of The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.
Van Duzer made the media rounds on Monday to discuss Obama's unexpected visit to his Fort Pierce pizza parlor. Van Duzer appeared live on MSNBC and planned to fly to New York City Monday night to appear on Tuesday's Anderson Cooper daytime show, Inside Edition and possibly The Today Show. Van Duzer taped a segment for NBC Nightly News at Big Apple Pizza and Pasta restaurant Monday afternoon that was scheduled to air Monday night. He also spoke to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, an interview also scheduled to air on The Situation Room Monday night.
Van Duzer said the hug was an emotional, unplanned moment. He also exchanged the signature presidential hug with news anchors and told Cooper during a television teaser that he was coming for the seasoned journalist.
"It was spur of the moment and genuine. I was just overcome with emotion. It seemed like he was a long-lost friend," said Van Duzer, who exchanged jokes with Obama about his burly physique. Van Duzer is 6'3" tall and weighs 260 pounds, compared to the president's slimmer 6'1", 170-pound frame.
"I put him down quickly and didn't run off with him," Van Duzer said. "It was a controlled state and the environment was nonthreatening."
Van Duzer said minutes before Obama arrived, Secret Service agents swept the area for weapons and cleared the restaurant of forks, knives and other sharp objects. Van Duzer, his staff and 10 patrons dining in at the time were searched and patted down.
Van Duzer's wife, Dawn, said the hug was typical of her husband. "It was an innocent gesture. That's just the way Scott is," she said. "He gets so excited and is always giving out hugs."
The media firestorm has brought worldwide attention to the Van Duzer Foundation. Scott founded the nonprofit four years ago to help one family a month with financial and medical crises. He said Obama caught wind of his foundation's work and decided to stop into his shop.
Van Duzer's annual blood drive holds the state record for the largest blood donations in a single day. Van Duzer and several children from the Boys and Girls Club of St. Lucie County biked to Washington, D.C., in June to raise awareness about blood shortages around the country. During their trip, the group met with U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin.
Fort Pierce resident and Big Apple staffer Jessica Ray, 15, was working the midday shift during the historic visit.
"I honestly thought he was going to be taken down by the Secret Service. They took a few steps forward, but President Obama waved them off when he put his arms out," Ray said. "That's normal Scott. He's a great guy and a great boss."
Treasure Coast residents were abuzz Monday about the bear hug and national attention.
"How many people can say they picked up the president, literally?" said Fort Pierce resident Julie Kendall Snyder, 28. "He seemed to like it too!"
Port St. Lucie resident, Jim Wethington, 42, said he wasn't surprised by the big gesture.
"Knowing Scott and the man that he is, it was not a surprise to me for his reaction," Wethington said. "I know it will be one of the things that President Barack Obama will surely remember of his presidency. I know that none of us around the Treasure Coast will soon forget."
WHAT OTHER TREASURE COAST RESIDENTS, READERS THOUGHT:
Treasure Coast residents were asked what they thought about the big bear hug local businessman Scott Van Duzer gave President Obama during his visit to the Treasure Coast on Sunday? Here's what they had to say:
I think it was totally disrespectful for Pizza man to do what he did. To grab the President of the United States of America in a bear hug and lift him off the ground is simply wrong. How will the next supposedly happy, zealous citizen disrespect this president, grab his butt, rub his hair, grab him from behind, kiss him on the lips, what???
What man does to another man what Pizzaman did, except in some very specific circumstances, and a presidential visit to your place of business is not one of them. In my opinion, Pizza man may have either missed many of his mother's home training lessons, or was raised by monkeys, or is several cans short of a six pack. If I were present and in charge of presidential security I would have responded very, very differently. — Preston Banks, New Jersey
Find someone who has done more for the community that Scott. I admire his commitment to helping others. Regardless of our own political views,
It's still an honor to meet the POTUS. Way to bring light on the Treasure Coast and all you do.
I'm proud you Scott. — Capt. George Gozdz, Jensen Beach
I thought it was a very positive humanizing moment for the President. — Bill McConaghy, Hobe Sound
I think Scott is a Great Guy. He has given so much back to the community