IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - It's been a week since Papa Tom's started getting puzzling calls from patrons, upset and under the impression that Papa Tom's supported Idahoans for Open Primaries, ahead of a January 27 petition signing and meeting at Papa Tom's in Idaho Falls.
"The night before we started getting phone calls from people who were mad that we were endorsing something that was so polarizing - Idahoans for open primaries. And we weren't endorsing and it wasn't something that we knew anything about," said Kristopher Mueller, owner of Papa Tom's Pizza.
Idahoans for Open Primaries is petitioning that people from any political affiliation be allowed to vote in Idaho's closed primaries. Papa Tom's said all they knew is someone had reserved their popular sunroom for Saturday, January 27.
"They didn't tell us tell management, they didn't tell anyone when they made the reservation that it was part of a broader group and that they were going to be hosting a signature drive solely at our location in Bonneville County, and which is just bizarre to me, that you wouldn't tell," Mueller said.
The problem compounded when a press release from Idahoans for Open Primaries was sent to multiple media outlets, listing Papa Tom's as the meeting location, and everyone seemed to know about it except Papa Tom's.
I'm looking at my reservation book right now," explained Mueller. "There's nothing that says anything about a ballot drive or any kind of signature gathering process. And so I didn't think - I thought it was a prank, honestly, until we started getting more phone calls."
The problem compounded again when Papa Tom's was told on the room reservation that 20 people would be there on Saturday, January 27, and a lot more than 20 showed up. Papa Tom's said Saturday is already their busiest day, so the amount of people in and out for a surprise petition signing made for a chaotic day.
Local News 8 reached out to the PR firm for Idahoans for Open Primaries and received a statement.
"Idahoans for Open Primaries is a grassroots organization propelled by volunteers in communities throughout Idaho. When planning the Idaho Falls Day of Action, Idaho Falls locals looked for a local small business venue offering a central location, ample space, delicious food, and was well-known so citizens could learn more about the initiative.
Papa Tom’s Pizza is a beloved Idaho Falls institution that has often served as a community space for meetings, volunteer events and town hall-style gatherings. This event was no different."
Papa Tom's indicated they still would have appreciated more warning.
"We didn't schedule any extra employees. We didn't, you know, anticipate that our parking lot would have a lot of people coming in just to sign signatures."
Mueller also said their bottom line as a beloved Idaho Falls institution is this:
"We're not political, but we do serve everyone across the spectrum...I mean, all we care about is are you hungry? Do you like pizza?"