Late-morning diners got a presidential surprise Thursday when Barack Obama’s motorcade pulled into Magnolia Café on Lake Austin Boulevard. The president visited the Austin institution to have a meeting with University of Texas student Kinsey Button, who introduced Obama at the Paramount Theatre Thursday afternoon. Button received the honor after writing a letter to the president urging him to work with Congress to alleviate economic woes that had led to her father being laid off from a manufacturing engineering job for an oil company in Houston.
The president’s advance team alerted the Magnolia Café about 10:30 a.m. that the president would be paying a visit, according to Magnolia general manager Ross Harper, who said they thought it was "fantastic" that Obama had chosen the café for a special stop. Secret service arrived and swept the restaurant with a dog and used a wand to perform security searches on employees and diners before the president’s visit.
Obama and Button sat in a booth around 11:30 a.m. and chatted for about 30 minutes. What did Obama order? Harper said he was too busy maintain the normal flow of business in the restaurant to keep a watchful eye on the table, but he knows the president drank a mug of hot tea.
All of the patrons at the restaurant stayed and continued their meals and conversations during Obama’s visit, and Harper says what could have been a frantic scene was "really pleasant."
"It was great," Harper said. "They took good care of us."
When he arrived at the restaurant, Obama met all of the restaurant’s employees and patrons, shaking hands and stopping for one patron to take a picture of her son with the president. Nineteen-year-old Paige Rivera was one of the patrons at the restaurant when Obama arrived. Rivera, who is a student at the Art Institute of Austin, said Obama commented that she and her friends looked like college students. The president then asked her about her major and her experience in school.
"It was one of the most exciting days of my life. It turn out to be a really good decision to come here today," Rivera said.
Asked if it was the first time a president had visited the Lake Austin Boulevard restaurant, Harper joked, "First one since Teddy Roosevelt."
Bloomberg News reporter Angela GreilingKeane captured the moment and Tweeted the picture below. (Note: In the picture, GreilingKeane misidentified Button, an error she corrected with a subsequent Tweet.)
Additional material contributed by Statesman staffer Nicole Chavez.