Valley residents driving around town last week may have noticed some unique signs in areas used for promoting candidates for this year's election. Instead of ads for President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, the signs noted a showdown between Mint "The Chip" Romney and Ba "Rocky Road" Obama. The company behind them? The Gelato Spot, a locally owned, four-store mini-chain in the Valley.
"This isn't an excuse for marketing gelato," says Tommy Plato, who co-owns The Gelato Spot with parents Don Plato and Mei Lee. "It's something I'm interested in. It's personal."
Plato tells me that getting folks out to vote on November 6 is something he's passionate about, and he developed the idea as a way to get people involved in the election.
But the idea didn't come about all on its own. Plato says he was inspired by another restaurant's political ad campaign signs -- one that most of us are familiar with: that of Stingray Sushi.
Created by Jason Rose of Rose, Moser and Allyn Public Relations in Scottsdale, the signs show Suzy Stingray, the restaurant chain's Japanese anime character, alongside sayings like, "Obama cares about our sushi" and "Mitt bit my sushi."
Plato, who is friends with some of the people at Stingray, said he thought the campaign was creative but wanted The Gelato Spot to take a different approach.
"They put one candidate on each sign so some people may think they're biased. We didn't want to do that," Plato says. " And their humor is different than ours. We just wanted to play off the names of the flavors."
Like Stingray, The Gelato Spot formed a federal political-action committee (PAC) called Locals for Gelato of Tempe to be able to legally place the signs.
And although Plato tells me the cost of starting a PAC is zero, the action for a restaurant to do so is not without risks. In a recent article, the Republic reported that Phoenix spokeswoman Stephanie Ribodal Romero said that although the signs are legal due to being election signs from a PAC, Stingray has obviously "found a loophole" under city and state regulations for political signs.
So why aren't other restaurants doing it?
"Most people are scared to do this," Plato tells me. "And not every business can take a non-biased approach."
The Gelato Spot's signs encourage people to text a number where they are asked to vote for their favorite flavor candidate and possibly win prizes like free gelato, $5 off a flavor candidate t-shirt, or savings on catering packages. (So far, Plato tells me, he's received over 150 texts.) And the two flavors are available in-store, where Plato says guests can "vote" for their favorite by purchasing one or the other. He adds the Gelato Spot's employees have been instructed to keep conversations unbiased and not to give their personal political opinions.
Plato says he's planning on rolling out the rest of his flavor campaign this week which will include an "undecided vote" (both flavor scoops in one bowl) and a gelato polling board in-store he jokes will have a "100 percent margin of error."
He adds voter registration forms will be available at all four Gelato Spot locations.
"I thought I might get more of a negative reaction to this," Plato tells me. "but so far there hasn't been much. People think it's hilarious."