Debate erupts over Pepe’s Pizza co-owner’s support for Trump
NEW HAVEN — Some area residents claim on Facebook that they plan to boycott Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana over the apparent support of co-owner Gary Bimonte for President Donald J. Trump.
Lorna Steele, in a Facebook post Wednesday morning, asked residents to consider joining her “in no longer funding his hate” by boycotting the restaurants’ various locations, and included a picture of Bimonte holding a “Deplorables for Trump” sign and a post Bimonte shared in August 2018 that thanked Trump for American steel piping being used in construction jobs.
In the thread in a mostly Democratic city that takes its pizza seriously, Steele said she “personally will not be purchasing goods and services from establishments that are owned by people or companies that promote the worst of Trump’s agenda and/or extremist second amendment views.”
As of about 12:30 p.m., the post had been shared more than 150 times, and garnered 160 comments and 71 reactions, with some area residents concurring with Steele’s idea and others arguing that people should not boycott individual businesses if their owners engage in political speech without involving their company.
“Look. If we start boycotting individuals for their political views it’s just as bad as a pharmacist who won’t give contraception because of their “principles,” one Facebook commenter said.
But another person wrote, “In a society where government is controlled by money and corporate influence, it is the right of every citizen to eliminate their support of businesses who do not hold their best interests.”
Guilford resident Frank Blackwell, who commented on the thread, was struck by Bimonte’s seeming concern that his Second Amendment rights would be taken away, also shown in a picture shared by Steele.
Blackwell is for stricter gun control laws — he organized the “March For Our Lives” event on the Guilford Green. But he doesn’t think a boycott is appropriate. In the past, when dining at Pepe’s, he’s never felt pressured to believe one thing or another; he’s noted the diversity of the staff.
“From what I could ascertain, it seems like he’s someone on the other side of the argument that’s peaceably demonstrating his views,” said Blackwell. “To my eye, there’s a difference between the business and the man.”
People have the right to spend their money as they wish, Blackwell said. And he’s not a Trump supporter — he can understand why someone would be driven to disassociate themselves from anything that seemingly backs the president.
But the boycott only adds to the division in our society, Blackwell said. A face-to-face discussion would at least allow for the exchange of ideas and require Bimonte to substantiate his beliefs, he said.
Bimonte could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
According to staffers at the Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven, he no longer works at the restaurant regularly.
Messages to the company’s corporate headquarters were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Steele did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Bimonte in 2018 gave $100 to former gubernatorial candidate Joe Visconti, who drew headlines for his support of Trump in 2018 and received the endorsement of Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
Bimonte did not donate to Trump directly, according to the FEC.