January 10th, 2009
05:37 PM ET
5 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)
  1. Ilona Hussein Proud Canadian

    Folks, you do not know just how lucky you are
    in having BARACK as your PRESIDENT!

    BUT WAIT, I FORGOT, YOU FOLKS ACTUALLY
    VOTED FOR HIM!

    WELL GUESS WHAT? AMERICANS HAVE
    MADE HISTORY!

    WE CANADIANS LOVE BARACK. we have
    even said on our BLOGS, that if you do not
    appreciate Barack, we would love to have him
    and his family move to Canada...........darn...
    you decided. (rightly so) that YOU WANT TO
    KEEP BARACK AND HIS FAMILY, SO WHAT
    CAN I SAY? WE ARE OUT OF LUCK!

    BARACK IS A MAN FOR THE PEOPLE, SO
    PLEASE, WATCH OUT FOR HIM, THERE ARE
    MANY WHO WOULD LIKE TO SEE BARACK
    COME TO HARM! AMERICA AND THE REST
    OF THE WORLD IS IN CHAOS, AND
    BARACK AND HIS ADMINISTRATION
    ARE FACING A MONUMENTAL TASK!

    GOOD LUCK FOLKS!

    January 10, 2009 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  2. DC Steve

    lol @ people coming to this thinking it was something about Obama smoking.

    Hi Haters!!!!

    January 10, 2009 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  3. DC Resident

    Oh man I went to Ben's late Friday night, I wish I had went today for lunch instead, I just missed him! And I noticed the addition of the Obama family to the "People who eat free at Ben's" sign. I'm glad he went! Welcome to DC!

    January 10, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  4. Mike

    The title of this article is misleading.

    January 10, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  5. I'm amazed!

    Wow, he eats food...with his mouth. The Democrats are right;.

    He's a GOD!

    January 10, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  6. Rob

    Please look at the spelling errors of the Obama supporters in this article. If this is his "base" we are in serious (or seeryus) trouble.

    January 10, 2009 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  7. Matt

    Lol, This is our president? Whats next, bailout for mcdonalds?

    January 10, 2009 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  8. Ann

    This is news HOW?? Come on people.

    January 10, 2009 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  9. ChicagoSuz

    I swear that man has a cast-iron stomach... ;-)

    January 10, 2009 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  10. Erinel Faustin

    Obama You are a good man.

    January 10, 2009 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  11. John

    Ben's chili bowl is a DC staple. It is the same half smoke served in National's park. You're not a 'DC' rsident if you have never dined there.. this is important b/c even though he is new to town he is embracing the community of where he lives. He has met with our mayor Fenty at least twice that I know of. And his daughters are enrolled in school here. G. Bush – I'm sure has never even heard of Ben's chili bowl – hated DC – and was completely out of touch.

    January 10, 2009 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  12. Steve in Las Vegas,NV

    I can only hope Ben's Chili Bowl opens a resturant here in Las Vegas.

    Their food sounds great.. Not only that, it sounds healthier than Mc D's extra greasy crud. I'm sure Obama's security detail enjoyed this place as well!!

    Well, we have a Hooters here so that will do just fine.

    January 10, 2009 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  13. Intelligent American

    Mark: Gee, so you figured out CNN's angle on making the title eye-catching. Very astute.

    January 10, 2009 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  14. Intelligent American

    So Obama has sausages and people are praising him for it? Jesus Christ. I supported Obama and donated to his campaign, and *I'm* sick of the Obama worship. Support him, people, don't worship him.

    January 10, 2009 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  15. AM from Eugene Oregon

    Smoker here.
    What is up with smoker phobia. I am sick of it.....the way people go on and on about it....it so bad alot of smokers take it to the closet....they should just make it illegal if they don't want us addictied....I don't get it. We cant smoke indoors anymore here in Oregon and frankly I never smoke indoors anyways, I think Tobacco education has created a bunch of non-tolerant bigets....for god sakes leave the fien alone!!!! This article is sweet but its twisted headlines are spun to draw the condemer. If you knew what kind of energy it took in your own life to be president you would realize Obama has every right to manage his stress how he wants. STFU

    January 10, 2009 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  16. Oops!!!

    That One !!!! January 10th, 2009 9:19 pm ET
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    @Mike, Syracuse NY Please find TCM and you guys take your Racist
    A_S to H_LL
    ****************************************************************************
    @Eve and Mark ….half-smokes” –- sausages smothered in spicy homemade chili sauce, mustard, and onions.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."

    January 10, 2009 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  17. Brian from SC

    The title was very misleading and inappropiate.

    Aside from this, it is great to see our president-elect, continuing to fellowship and reach out to the people he will serve. I love the way the new administration and cabinet is looking. A great sampling of America's finest from all four corners.

    Let us continue to stay involved in our government and serve for the greater good of all Americans in our respective professions.

    Way to go Obama!

    January 10, 2009 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  18. Carole

    I applaud PEBO for keeping it real! I will pray that you continue to be yourself. Be who you are, do you!

    January 10, 2009 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  19. texasgreenacres

    Blossum it may give him gas.But how presidential it will be is another question. in most cases. methane gas smells really bad in other words stinks like hell.and you know this guy isn't supposed to stink.

    January 10, 2009 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  20. sam

    you guys are hilarious, guy eats a hot dog and its like he pated the Red Sea.

    January 10, 2009 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  21. allys

    I just love him.

    January 10, 2009 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  22. joanna

    who gives a crap

    January 10, 2009 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  23. Ronnie Patrick

    This beautiful man is just like Jesus hanging with common people. I knew when I worked in his campaign for twenty one months, gave of my money and lots and lots of prayers, chased by dogs, walking in dog mess, being cursed out, doors closed in my face. Having my WHITE REPUBLICAN husband who by the way voted for Mccain working daily in the field with me. Still married to me and still just as loving as he was before Obama came in the picture (smile). Never changing the channel on my TV from CNN, MSNBC and NBC, I was doing the right thing. God is with you Obama all the way. You will be the best President this Country have ever had. While that you are not perfect you are perfect for us. You might not see me on the 20th but I will be there with my WHITE REPUBLICAN husband. By the way I would rather Obama smoke a cig once in a while than cheating on his wife and country. Get over it he will be delivered.

    January 10, 2009 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  24. Joe

    Obama half smoking? what kind of crap is that cnn ? the man was eating and yall call it half smoking?

    January 10, 2009 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  25. German,Irish American

    I was kind of wondering who has the dirty job of cleaning up the "wet" spot on the chairs of MSM "reporters" who write these fluff stories about the Messiah. Knowing the liberal mentality, I'm sure they only get minimum wage. HEIL OBAMA!

    January 10, 2009 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
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