Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney may have committed a Pittsburgh faux pas when he dissed cookies from the vaunted Bethel Bakery during his visit Tuesday to Bethel Park -- but the local landmark is making the most of the free publicity.
Comments on blog sites, Twitter and Facebook from insulted Bethel Bakery fans have since been blowing up, nicknaming the incident "CookieGate."
Julie Lytle, the bakery's sales and marketing assistant, said the popular local fixture since 1955 "turned a negative into a positive" by printing a sign offering customers a "CookieGate Special!" -- a free half dozen cookies with the purchase of a dozen cookies today and Thursday.
"I was a little shocked," Ms. Lytle said. "I didn't think too much of it at the time, and I didn't think it would blow up like it has. We decided to have fun with it and not to get offended."
Ms. Lytle prepared the variety tray of five dozen cookies when bakery owner John Walsh heard from his wife Chris late Monday that the governor was visiting the area.
Mr. Romney was at a staged event, sitting at a picnic table with four local couples at the Bethel Park Community Center.
The cookies were delivered to the roundtable lunch, which also included lemonade, chips and pretzels, by a municipal official.
Mr. Romney didn't taste any of the food, which Mr. Walsh thinks would have made a difference.
"I'm not sure about these cookies," Mr. Romney said. "They came from the local 7-Eleven bakery or whatever."
Tuesday's events didn't exactly endear Mr. Romney to Mr. Walsh, who said he thinks the comments were made in jest. Mr. Walsh said he's a Republican, but hasn't decided who to vote for in the next week's primary election.
Now he's hoping to persuade Mr. Romney to try some of his baked goods the next time he is in the area.
"I think that we just need to make him a Bethel Bakery fan," Mr. Walsh said. "He had no idea he was half a mile from one of the most beloved institutions in this area."
The visit was part of a brief stop in Pennsylvania that ended in Lancaster.
Even local GOP candidates were riled up by the slight, including Evan Feinberg, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, for his 18th Congressional District seat.
Mr. Feinberg said on his Twitter page: "Huge mistake. Bethel Bakery is an institution around here!"
Janice Crompton: email@example.com or 412-851-1867. First Published April 19, 2012 2:30 AM