The presidential lunch run is back.
Visiting Las Gemelas, a new taqueria in Washington’s rapidly gentrifying Union Market neighborhood, Biden was hoping to shine a light on his administration’s $28.6 billion restaurant relief program for businesses hurt by the pandemic.
Emerging masked from his SUV, Biden offered an enthusiastic greeting to the aproned worker sent out to greet him. Once inside the empty dining room, decorated with neon wall art, Biden consulted a white note card briefly before summoning an aide — “where’s my guy?” — to tell him exactly how much money Las Gemelas had been awarded by his administration.
“$677,000!” Biden exclaimed, lightly tapping the owner, Josh Phillips, with his note card. “Congratulations!”
“I ordered lunch here, you know,” he went on, stepping to the counter and informing a group of kitchen workers that their industry had lost 2.8 million employees during the coronavirus crisis.
“Already almost 200,000 people have applied for this program. You’re the very first one in the whole nation,” Biden explained. “Do you have any questions?”
“What’s your favorite kind of taco?” someone asked, after a pause.
“I like them all,” the President said, without skipping a beat. “I don’t know what they ordered for me.”
He left with two paper bags full of tacos (al pastor, carnitas, barbacoa and tongue) and two quesadillas — though he told an inquiring reporter on his way out they were enchiladas, which don’t appear on the restaurant’s menu.
The visit only lasted a few minutes, but that was still longer than his predecessor spent inside restaurants in Washington that did not bear his name. Trump wasn’t drawn to those types of interactions, preferring large arena rallies instead as a venue for interacting with the public.
In office, the 45th President did not make a habit of dropping by unannounced at restaurants. During his entire four years at the White House, he dined out in Washington only at the steakhouse inside his namesake hotel two blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue. A special booth was kept ready for last-minute visits; well-done steaks and small bottles of ketchup were rushed to the table when he arrived.
On the road he was no less averse to making the type of quick pit stops that his predecessors used to highlight policies or interact with regular Americans.
Trump briefly stopped by a pizzeria in Pennsylvania last year during a campaign stop, but seemed somewhat confused by the plexiglass barriers in place during the pandemic.
“Why did you want to come here?” someone asked.
“Because they have great pizza,” the President replied, lifting open a box top and holding the pie aloft.
He didn’t stop at any more restaurants.
He’s also made stops at a hardware store and his wife popped into a bakery near Capitol Hill. When he was vice president and a senator, Biden was a frequent sight at restaurants around the capital, including see-and-be-seen spots like the Le Diplomate brasserie on 14th Street NW and Cafe Milano in Georgetown.
President Barack Obama made ample use of the restaurant drop-by. He stopped for burgers in Minnesota, barbecue in Kansas City, sandwiches in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. In Washington, he and his wife were regular patrons of new restaurants around town.
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