Obama tale lifts pie maker's fortunes

— -- Move over, Joe the Plumber.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is putting an alternative working class hero on the map.

His name is Bill Seip. He is from the battleground state of Ohio, like Joe Wurzelbacher, the plumber who became a fixture in Republican presidential candidate John McCain's speeches after Wurzelbacher approached Obama during a campaign stop to challenge his tax policy.

During most lunch hours, he can be found over a hot grill at the Fireside Restaurant in the tiny town of Georgetown (pop. 3,506). Obama and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a fellow Democrat, stopped in this month for a piece of pie, and the Democratic presidential nominee hasn't stopped talking about it since.

"Isn't that something?" Seip, 46, who has owned the eatery since 1999, marveled in a phone interview Tuesday.

Over the weekend, Obama regaled audiences from Kansas City to Orlando with the story of how, in between mouthfuls of coconut custard pie, he gave an earful to Seip.

As Obama tells the story — which he does at every available opportunity — Seip's employees fingered the boss as "a die-hard Republican." When Seip showed up with pieces of pie for his VIP customers, Obama challenged him about his political views.

"How's business?" the Illinois senator says he asked. After the restaurateur complained about it, Obama says he shot back, "Tell me, who has been running the economy the past eight years?" The crowds at rallies love it when he says Seip "should think about voting Democrat."

The butt of Obama's campaign trail joke is laughing all the way to the bank. Seip says his business, off 40% this summer, has taken a sudden upswing since the Democratic presidential hopeful showed up and started telling audiences all across the country that he picked the Fireside because it was supposed to have "the best pies in town."

"I'm getting people from Cincinnati and Pennsylvania," he said.

The pies that drew Obama are made by Seip's mother, Barb, 70. According to her son, she bakes about 65 every week for Fireside's clientele. "She's a sweetheart," Seip said.

Another menu item caught Obama's eye: the "Big O" burger. He took one to go when he left the diner. The next day, Seip changed the name on the menu to the "Obama burger." The double-decker burger, served up with lettuce, pickles and tartar sauce, has been selling briskly ever since, he said.

Does all the business Obama has thrown his way mean Seip is voting for Obama Nov. 4? "I ain't saying," the restaurant owner told USA TODAY. Though Seip described himself as "conservative," he said he is not a Republican. At least not at the moment. Seip said he changes party registration depending on who is running in the primary. "I've switched back and forth so many times it's ridiculous," he said.

This spring, he said, he changed from Republican to Democrat, so he could vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. "Obama should have put her as vice president," Seip said.