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. Virginia Republican

    Well, even this is Clintonesque-stops at fast food joints already?

    January 10, 2009 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  2. proud american

    i like to touch little boys and i am really just a stupid democrat that knows nothings, well guess ill leave you all with that

    January 10, 2009 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  3. Texas Teacher

    a man of the people for the people.. he is not so far removed from the average man that he does not know what it is to be like the average man.... or woman... I think he is letting us know that he does not mean to get out of touch with HIS base! Go Obama! :)

    January 10, 2009 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  4. Jacqueline Ramsdell

    He's a winner through and through !!!!!!!

    January 10, 2009 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  5. tired of corporate politics

    "JUST A EVERYDAY MAN " says some Obama sheep.

    If the everyday man is a rich, connected, lawyer, from a preppy background. Which we are NOT.

    Did you really but in the everyday man myth? Dude – take a few more brains cells to think about it a minute.

    January 10, 2009 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  6. mARGE

    I just can't believe people are so stupid as to rush around like a bunch of helots (Meet John Doe) to see obama. In fact they act the same way over any rock star. Goes to show this country is celebrity crazy.

    January 10, 2009 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  7. ja

    man, i should have been there. i go to the chili bowl every other day or so and (go figure) i missed it the day obama shows up. they added the obamas to the "eats free" list (now consisting of bill cosby and the obama family) back in november...it was only a matter of time before he swung in. he ordered it right too–half-smoke w/ chili. the best food in the world.

    January 10, 2009 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  8. Dimitri Clark

    It is a shame that you sorry clowns would use that headline.

    January 10, 2009 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  9. Lily

    He's so down to earth....i love mr. Prez!!!

    January 10, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  10. go away mongers -Ventura ca

    A REAL PERSON as President- It will be a welcomed CHANGE!

    January 10, 2009 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  11. Paul

    Why is "half-smoke" in quotation marks? This blogger's never heard of a half-smoke?

    January 10, 2009 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  12. andrea

    What a great Guy, what a great Predident he wil be!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 10, 2009 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  13. Dave

    I am glad the man likes to eat good food, and I will support him as POTUS, but people he isn't the mesiah, just a regular man. Relax.

    January 10, 2009 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  14. Wisest one of All

    Just another photo op for the ultimate phoney in D. C. Proven Fact!

    January 10, 2009 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  15. German,Irish American

    Mark- As an ex smoker of 30 years who finally quit after my fifth attempt, trust me , when Obama says he has made an "effort" to quit smoking,but has on occasion" fallen off the wagon", he is still smoking. I am not criticizing his smoking, I am just saying do not idolize another unfounded myth about the man.

    January 10, 2009 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  16. Home of the Free

    Gordon, Payson, Az January 10th, 2009 6:29 pm ET

    Here come the Libtards in 3….2…1….

    (is my comment witty or insightful or both?)
    ___________________________________________________
    Neither it just shows how stupid you are. Idiot

    January 10, 2009 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  17. Pat

    What a stupid, mis-leading headline. Can't you professional journalists come up with something better than that? Just because it "seems like a good idea at the time" doesn't mean that you shouldn't rethink it after writing it.

    January 10, 2009 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  18. Citizen Pained

    Isn't this a typical liberal parasite interfering with the everyday lives of Americans. Look at how much he disrupted everyone not already in the eatery. Why can't he use the federal employees food court and stay off the streets. The man is a parasite.

    January 10, 2009 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  19. get real dude

    girltexas:

    What you wish on others, shall you have for yourself. Becareful what you wish for!!

    January 10, 2009 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  20. Mike, Syracuse NY

    Ronnie Patrick January 10th, 2009 9:41 pm ET
    This beautiful man is just like Jesus hanging with common people.

    Oh, pleeease. You're making me sick with this idol worship.

    January 10, 2009 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  21. J. Sully

    I'm so looking forward to the era of Obama. After 8 long hard years of Bush and his corrupt cronies, will this be a breath of fresh air!!! Thanks America and Godspeed Obama/Biden.

    January 10, 2009 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  22. lisafree

    Hebrews 11:32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: 11:33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 11:34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

    January 10, 2009 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  23. Get Real

    Please before you people keep fainting over him why don't you wait and see if he is capable of doing something besides walking into a restaurant?
    This tabloid press the Obamas are getting is making me sick.
    I think he is very intelligent and a great speaker but let's see what he can do to fix this mess that our country is in.
    When none of you have a job and you're standing in the bread lines we'll see if you only want to talk about where Obama is eating or what Michelle is wearing.

    January 10, 2009 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  24. Ron in Asheville, NC

    You're all missing the most important thing: Ben's half-smoke is one of the best food items in the country. The man is informed!

    January 10, 2009 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  25. Michael

    I love this kind of coverage.....it shows a gentler side of all the craziness in this world. And to all of the right wingnut foamers, I didn't hear you complaining about Bush taking a trip on Air Force One at taxpayer expense to see his daddy get his own aircraft carrier.

    Sorry, but some of the posts here are just stoooopid.

    January 10, 2009 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
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