A stop for take-out at a Puerto Rican cafe in the Azalea Park neighborhood: Florida has 860,000 Puerto Rican voters...
On the campaign trail in Orlando, Florida on Thursday, President Obama made an "unscheduled" stop at Lechonera El Barrio, a Puerto Rican cafe in the city's Azalea Park neighborhood. Arriving at about 2:10 PM ahead of a speech at nearby Rollins College, the President ordered a take-out plate of pulled pork and rice ($6) and greeted patrons and staff, posing for photos as he awaited his meal. The house specialty is suckling pig and fried mofongo (plantains), but more important than the food is the clientele. Florida's Puerto Rican voters have doubled in the last decade to about 860,000, or about 1 in 14 voters overall, and they are part of Mr. Obama's major effort to woo the Latino vote. (The above photo of the President greeting patrons was rapidly posted on the White House blog as Photo of the Day)
Puerto Rico-born singing star Marc Anthony has become a major Obama supporter, and joined the President during a fundraising swing in Miami in June. He also filmed a campaign video and opened a campaign headquarters for Mr. Obama in Little Havana. Anthony joined the President for his first-ever trip to Puerto Rico in June of 2011.
Of course Lechonera El Barrio was hand-picked for the President's visit, though the stop was not listed on his official daily schedule. A campaign aide helpfully described it for journalists as "a quick service café. Patrons rave about their Cuban sandwiches and sweet plantains. The food, workers, and atmosphere are all genuine. All of the workers speak Spanish and the menu is in Spanish, and the waiters are known for their customer service and help in navigating this authentic and reasonably priced menu." (Above: Posing with diners)
As the employees were preparing his take-out order, the President, his shirtsleeves rolled up, greeted diners, who were crowded around rectangular tables in the cramped establishment, which featured an orange-shingled roof, rainbow tablecloths, a display case crammed with $2.50 deserts and a banner plastered on one wall advertising $3.95 lunch specials, according to pool.
One diner, wearing an Orlando Magic cap, posed with President Obama for a picture, as did a table of women and girls, who pushed aside their food as they chatted.
The President emerged onto the street a short while later, carrying two white plastic bags of takeout.
In the meantime, the Secret Service had wanded and cleared a group of school children and some adult chaperones, who had been participating nearby in a summer program called New Beginnings. They gathered behind yellow security tape and Mr. Obama approached them after dropping off his bags of food in the presidential limo.
The President greeted the thrilled group, asking them what they’ve been doing during the summer. The kids said lots of sports, like basketball.(Above: With the kids)
“Okay, I’ve got to take a picture with everybody,” the President said. He then instructed “just the kids” to duck under the yellow security tape and stand in front of the restaurant with him.
The President and chief White House photographer Pete Souza arranged the kids, and then the President stood behind them and said “cheese” several times, as Souza--and several press pool photographers--snapped away in the blazing sun.
“Even though you’re having a good time this summer, you still have to work hard, right? You need to spend time working on reading and math,” the President told the kids.
A couple minutes later, the motorcade was off, heading to Rollins College in Winter Park, where the President arrived at 2:40 PM. (Above: The President with his bags of takeout food)
After Florida, the President continued on to Leesburg, Virginia, for more campaigning.
Info: Lechnoera El Barrio is at 435 North Semoran Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32807. Phone: 407-380-1455.
*Top photo by Pete Souza/White House; others by pool