Rashidah Richardson gets ready to down the next slice of pizza as Stevie Crumby works on a slice during the pizza eating challenge at Vito's. Both lost to Lakota the bear.
Some days you get the bear; other days the bear gets you.
Yesterday, Vito's Pizza in South Toledo got an 850-pound black bear and, in return, the bear got lots and lots of pizza.
The bear, part of a slightly less than subtle publicity stunt, attracted about 500 people to the new pizzeria pretty much like honey attracts bears.
Among them, Jimmy Thomas, who is just 5 years old and not even 3-feet-tall and who had no problem cozying up to Lakota during a photo op.
But it wasn't long before the boy darted away from the bear, which he accurately described as "big and hairy," although it wasn't because he was frightened.
There was free pepperoni pizza, and the line was long.
The restaurant at 315 South Detroit Ave. near Airport Highway baked more than 400 pizzas for the event.
"The bear is our best customer," joked Kevin Ullery, owner of the new franchise. "We noticed dozens of pizzas all going to one household - and it was his."
However, we don't know exactly what that says about Vito's pizza. It's well-known that bears will eat pretty much anything.
Apparently, so will 12 Bowsher High School students who, as part of the festivities, engaged Lakota in a pizza-eating contest.
Stevie Crumby, 16, a member of the school's football team, said confidently that he could put down 10 slices - and boasted that he might even beat the bear.
"At the least, I think I can keep up," he said with a bit more reserve moments later.
Lakota finished his pie in three minutes flat. At that point, Stevie and his classmates were barely finished with three slices each.
Sam Mazzola, a Lorain County animal trainer and rescuer who owns Lakota, said the 13-year-old bear has appeared in movies and is completely safe.
"It's an opportunity for people to come up and touch him, which is something they've probably never done," Mr. Mazzola said.
Stunts like yesterday's sometimes attract the attention of animal-right's organizations.
Lisa Wathne, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said she would contact the owner of Vito's this week and ask him not to consider another event with an exotic animal.
She also had harsh words for Mr. Mazzola.
"Sam Mazzola is one of several people who drags around exotic animals for stunts like this," Ms. Wathne said. "People don't stop to think that the animals are subjected to really horrible transport conditions and many are declawed and have all or some of their teeth pulled."
Mr. Mazzola brushed aside PETA's claims, saying his animals are well-cared for and all very happy.
Another animal, of sorts, who was pretty happy yesterday was Muddy the Mud Hen.
He also attended the grand opening - we told you it was a publicity stunt - and escaped the attention of Lakota's apparent voracious appetite.
Oh, and Mr. Ullery, who might be described by one popular cartoon carnivore as "smarter than the average bear," was happy too. His grand opening was a hit.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com or 419-724-6171.
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