January 10th, 2009
05:37 PM ET
9 years ago

Obama spends his Saturday 'half-smoking'

Obama made a Saturday stop at Ben's Chili Bowl, a local DC institution.

Obama made a Saturday stop at Ben's Chili Bowl, a local DC institution.

WASHINGTON (CNN) –- Obama popped in for lunch Saturday at Ben’s Chili Bowl, the 50-year-old Washington fast food institution famous for its “half-smokes” –- sausages smothered in spicy homemade chili sauce, mustard, and onions.

The visit came as a complete surprise to Sonya Ali, one of the owners of the family-run business.

“Do you think I’d look like this if I knew?” she said, referencing her red blouse and slacks. The Secret Service came in and secured the location. Ali asked them how soon they could expect the president-elect. “Within minutes,” they told her.

And sure enough, he did, with Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty in tow.

Security barricaded the U Street block, and hundreds rushed out of restaurants and apartment buildings to catch a glimpse of the incoming president.

Listen: Hear the crowd react and the owner reflect on the visit

Obama posed with diners and staff in all three rooms of the restaurant, before returning to the counter to collect his order: a chili half-smoke and sweet tea. Fenty had cheese fries and water.

There is a sign near the cash register that reads: “Who Eats Free at Ben’s. Bill Cosby. The Obama Family.” For years, the privilege was reserved for Cosby, a frequent patron and friend of the owner’s family.

“I actually changed that sign two days before the election,” Ali said. “I sat up in the office. I said: ‘I am changing the sign because he’s going to win. He’s going to be the president and we’d love to have him in here.’ We heard he liked chili.”

Seeing the sign, the president-elect said he appreciated the gesture, but paid with a $20 bill, telling the counter attendant who asked if he wanted change, "No, we're straight."

The president-elect and mayor took a two-person table, and joked with diners as they ate. Asked about the significance of the visit, Obama simply said: "It means I'm going to get a hot dog."

“It is a very historic moment,” Ali said. “[T]o actually have him here was just wonderful. It just kind of proves that what we felt all along: that he is really a president for the people. He is just a man among men. So it’s an honor.”

This was Obama's first visit to Ben’s.

The president-elect posed for a photo with a group of policemen and Fenty outside the restaurant, and refused to take sides on a question of local loyalties: “I'm a Bulls fan. White Sox fan. Neutral when it come to Maryland and Georgetown."

Saturday’s half-smoke sausage may be just about all the smoking Obama is doing of late. The president-elect has made an effort to quit smoking, although he admitted in recent interviews that he has, on occasion, "fallen off the wagon."

Filed under: President-elect Obama
soundoff (203 Responses)


    January 10, 2009 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  2. Ray Fisher

    I'm happy to see our President enjoying his weekend as our nation is worn to a frazzle from worry about the economy, jobs, and the daily grind so must he. With 10 days remaining, he better enjoy this time before entering the forbidden zone where time stands still and he will forever be scrutinized by a desparate nation. God bless our new President and his family.

    January 10, 2009 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  3. Dwayne Pennel

    Ya, no kidding. That was stupid on CCN's part. The title should easily say "Half Smokey" they did it on purpose to get people to read it. Typical false statements for better viewer turn out.

    January 10, 2009 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  4. Rich

    Hey Mark at 7:41 p.m.: My understanding is he has failed to kick the smoking hoping. Besides: If they're called "half smokes," light up! ... I mean LIGHTEN up. 🙂

    January 10, 2009 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  5. Pinko Punko

    Ben's Chili Bowl is a famous African-American institution from back when this part of DC was called "Black Broadway"- and it is totally awesome.

    January 10, 2009 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  6. gregg45

    wow,, sounds like jesus is in the house,, obvious,, they dont close streets and all for jesus,,, but , my god its obama,,, never mind posting this,, its all obama on cnn,,, god forbid ,, you say anything bad,,, well . rule our world ,, and why even post anything bad . about your god,, it will never be seen ,, HEIL HITLER

    January 10, 2009 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  7. jesuino leduino rosa

    God save the president Obama. The furure of all natins depend on him.

    January 10, 2009 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  8. BluesBrother

    Another example of the socialist, Muslim, super liberal, policies of the President Elect.

    Give us more Palin stories!

    Palin/Cheney 2012!!!

    January 10, 2009 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  9. RaeofSun

    You know, I love CNN. I think they are as unbiased as they can be. But seriously, this title deluded even me. I expected some comment about Obama falling off the wagon. While I love a play on words, Sarah Palin (unfortunate, but true) comes to mind about the media's ability to distort the truth. Obama hadn't had a cigarette, but clearly the headline was hoping most would read it that way. I don't want the media to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but perhaps, a little more thought and discretion should be used in these headlines.....

    January 10, 2009 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  10. rich

    What can I say other than I luv the man. America's future is bright despite we appear to be in the dumps right now.

    January 10, 2009 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  11. Common Cents

    Dude, your headline was MISLEADING!!!

    Who's responsible for this?!?

    He or she should be skinned and half-smoked themselves!

    January 10, 2009 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  12. Richie

    He did the same thing in my town, just showed up at a restaurant for food. That's way cool.

    January 10, 2009 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |

    I will continue to pray for President Obama, Michelle and our first little girls.Obama please always remember to HANG TUFF and PRAY MUCH!!

    January 10, 2009 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  14. Mike

    Get over it !
    the dude had a lunch.
    My god man

    January 10, 2009 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  15. Republican for Obama - TX

    I agree with Amy; I just wish I could meet Obama 1 time. That would make my day!

    January 10, 2009 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  16. mom for obama

    I agree with Mark...poor title choice for this article.

    January 10, 2009 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  17. Ken in NC

    DANG .... Bens Chilli Bowl is less than 500 miles from my house. If only I had driven up there for a bowl of chilli today. This PE Obama is one of the people of this country. He is as we are. Normal everyday people.

    January 10, 2009 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  18. Tracey

    He is so cool! Just a regular guy! And Ben's is the best! They're gonna be packed though b/c of this article so don't even bet on getting in there next weekend.

    January 10, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  19. peace

    Obama is just natural like like many of us.I hope the media give him some time .They are everywhere with him.I just wish I can meet obama.But I like what he says to the people all the time."ONE PRESIDENT AT A TIME"

    January 10, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  20. Rick

    All show and loking for the Cheese to kiss up to people before ruining our livelyhood with tax increases. First one will be the GAS TAX.

    January 10, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  21. annon

    Glad we're focusing on the important stuff.

    January 10, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  22. Nicole

    Enough! I'm cringing as I'm (trying) to read the last few comments. Get off of your computer and go back to school so you can learn how to write a coherent sentence!

    January 10, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  23. Ryan

    Amy-wake up and realize that Obama is yet another elite...the way you think of him is a joke. He wouldn't give you the time of day if you could not advance his political career someway.

    January 10, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  24. Elizabeth

    Obama is the man. I would love to just hang out with him for a day.

    January 10, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  25. Griff

    Pity there is no Sauce On the "Barbi" Cue for such Comedy???? Just another Plastic Doll???.

    January 10, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
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