D.C. diner adds Obama to list of famous patrons

January 10, 2009

WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama made an impromptu foray into his new hometown on Saturday with a visit to D.C. landmark Ben’s Chili Bowl and threw health-consciousness to the wind: a chili half-smoke, and don’t hold the shredded cheese.USA-OBAMA/

“Where the food at?” Obama asked the staff as he walked through the restaurant accompanied by Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, shaking hands and posing for pictures.

The neighborhood diner in the city’s U Street district has served up food to the likes of Bill Cosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Martin Luther King, Jr. since it opened its doors in 1958.

As Obama made his way to the counter, he asked Ben’s staff, “How much does a half-smoke cost?”

One server responded, “You didn’t see the sign? Obama eats for free,” he said, referring to a sign that said only Bill Cosby and the Obama family could eat free at Ben’s.

Obama laughed and handed server Jermaine Jefferson a $20 bill, which he proudly showcased, as Obama told him to “keep the change.”

Sonya Ali, an owner of Ben’s and wife of Kamal Ali, whose parents started the business, told Reuters they had an inclination that Obama would eventually stop by, but they had no idea it would be today.

“We were very humble and happy,” she said. “He’s such a warm man and very personable and approachable. We were honored to have him here.”

As the Washington mayor enjoyed some cheese fries, Obama munched on a chili half-smoke — the diner’s signature dish — a quarter pound half pork and beef smoked sausage on a steamed bun.

Obama, who is known for being health conscious and works out almost daily, could have opted for a less calorie-intensive meal as the diner offers a list of “healthy choices” on its menu. But he instead chose to get the full Ben’s experience by digging into Bill Cosby’s favorite dish.

“It was terrific,” Obama said as he left the restaurant.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Obama visits a D.C. icon, Ben’s Chili Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 10)


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What a waste of words. Nothing in this story matters in the least. I don’t want to see him on the beach with his shirt off or hear of his eating habits.

However, as I previously stated several times, he is the president (elect) and he no longer has a private life.

He complained about the press in Hawaii, but this was an obvious media event. None of it matters.

Posted by TC | Report as abusive

TC, what are you talking about, exactly? Did that comment make sense when it was just in your head?

Also, human interest stories like this one add color to the reporting about an important person, especially someone like the President. If you don’t enjoy reading them, please head on over to one of the many articles about Obama’s economic policies or cabinet or something else. Why click on a piece just to leave some nonsensical comment about how “nothing matters.”?

Posted by Jenna | Report as abusive

Thank you for paying attention to my comment rather than comment on the story.

I do read all the stories, but stories like this serves no purpose. He complains about the press following him around one day, then he stages a media event like this on another day. He seems to want it both ways.

You are right though, the president does not have a private life and there will be many more stories to come. I hope you are as interested in the stories criticizing him as you are in stories like these. In your thought process we all deserve to see all sides of the president. Just don’t be a hypocrite and criticize the negative stories. At some point we should know something about this person 52 percent of the electorate voted for.

However, I do know he smokes and it didn’t surprise me he ordered something called “half smoke.”

Posted by TC | Report as abusive

TC if you ever get to Ben’s Chili Bowl, it’s somewhere around 13th and U St. NW, try the half smoke and you’ll understand. I used to eat there all the time. It seems the only time Obama has complained about the press is when he is with his kids and who can blame him for that? Some of us are not blind supporters just because of party ties, I’ve voted for both of my states republicans Senators (Snowe and Collins) as well as democrats. Have you ever voted across party lines?

Posted by Eric H | Report as abusive

Taste it but do not eat, least you become obese. The low & meek of this world are the building blocks of the Future,
for the times of the high & mighty are fast eroding.

Posted by abey | Report as abusive

if you bothered to do some research you would learn that Ben’s Chili Bowl is actually an incredibly important landmark as to the history of DC and the history of this nation!

Posted by USA RULES | Report as abusive