Thursday, May 09, 2013

Behind The Scenes At President Obama's Lunch At Stubb's Bar-B-Que In Austin, Texas

Patrons "had their minds blown" and staffers were "ecstatic," says General Manager Ryan Garrett about the surprise visit; the President's order will be re-named in his honor...
"I just love Austin," President Obama told a high school crowd shortly before visiting Stubb's Bar-B-Que for a late-afternoon lunch break during the maiden trip of his Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour.  America's foremost beef enthusiast, President Obama also loves smoked meat.  

He arrived at the famous restaurant that does double-duty as a musical performance venue at 2:25 PM, and dined with four locals.  President Obama's 40-minute visit wasn't listed on his daily schedule, and he surprised and delighted between 15-20 unsuspecting late lunchers who were enjoying their own meals when he strode into the dining room, Stubb's General Manager Ryan Garrett told Obama Foodorama.

"He sat down with the American people, essentially," said Garrett.  "Their minds got blown."

Garrett's mind was a little bit blown, too:  He was over the moon about a visit from the Eater in Chief, but said he had just twenty minutes notice from the White House advance team before the President showed up.  No-one knew the President would be dropping by.

Still, all went smoothly as the President ordered beef brisket, the house signature, Garrett said. A quarter pound of beef brisket, to be exact, accompanied by two pork spare ribs, jalapeno corn bread and sides of pickles, onions and peppers (about $7.50).

His jacket off and his shirtsleeves rolled up, President Obama sat at a table tucked in a corner and enjoyed his 'cue with four guests hand-picked by the White House to represent the middle class:  Tyson Simmons, a registered nurse; Caroline Sweet, a teacher; Joe Alonzo, a paint & drywall contractor; and Agnes Wommack, a "small business owner," according to a White House official.  (Above, the White House photo of the visit) 

At his last stop of the day at tech company Applied Materials, Inc., the President described his lunch as he touted the importance of manufacturing and innovative research.

"I joined a few local families for lunch to talk about how we can make sure that hard work pays off with wages you can live on and raise a family, with health care that you can count on, and the chance to put away some money for retirement," President Obama said.

"And we also had good barbeque--which is necessary for economic growth," he added, to appreciative laughter.  "Some good barbeque once in a while."

The President chose his own "good barbecue" after perusing the menu, without advice from staff, said Garrett.  Stubb's is pure Texas-style, and the meat is served dry, though the house-made sauce awaits on the table.  

The beef is locally raised and "all hormones, no antibiotics, we slow smoke it...we use locally grown post oak for the smoking," said Garrett. 

The President's pork ribs had a "traditional Texas dry rub, coarse black pepper, kosher salt, cayenne, a little cumin and some other secret spices we incorporate," he said.

Asked if Secret Service monitored the action in the kitchen as the President's lunch plate was being prepared--standard protocol for out-of-White House dining excursions--Garrett said "I believe so," then confirmed with a cook:  Yes.

Stubb's has been open since 1996 and Garrett has worked there for thirteen years.  He's played host to world-famous musicians, including Bob Dylan, Metallica, REM, Beastie Boys, and James Brown.  But:  

"When the President dines with you it takes it to a whole new level," Garrett said, laughing.  "He's on a whole new plane." 

"He was just a nice guy, amazing," Garrett continued.  "He came up and said he enjoyed the BBQ, and called me by name, which was awesome."

Neither of the two living Presidents who hail from Texas have ever dropped by, Garrett said.

"The Presidential" will be added to the menu...
His staff is so used to waiting on famous musicians that they performed their duties flawlessly, Garrett said.  After lunch, the President shook hands and chatted with all the patrons, and posed for photos with the entire Stubb's staff, Garrett said.   

Pete Souza, the President's chief photographer, took an official portrait as the staff gathered with the President along the balcony rail that overlooks the stage where musical acts perform.  

"Everybody's just ecstatic," Garrett said.  

Aides promised to send photos, and promised these would be autographed by the President.  Sometimes President Obama signs a wall or a menu when he visits eateries, but there was none of that in Austin.  

Instead, Garrett has saved the chair the President sat in, and a plaque will be made to mark the visit, he said.

And there will soon be a new addition to the menu:  The President's lunch order will be named "The Presidential," Garrett said. 

Aides paid for the lunch, said Garrett, and yes, the President "absolutely left a tip."   

Members of the press were allowed in for the briefest photo op, but the White House released a six-second video (not a misprint) about the President's visit.
The visit really was a surprise...
A Secret Service "scout team" arrived to secure the restaurant and make sure the President could dine at Stubb's about twenty minutes before his arrival, Garrett said, which was a complete surprise to all.  Twenty minutes is typically the amount of time given restaurateurs ahead of "unscheduled" Presidential drop-ins.  The lunch rush was over, so the place wasn't packed.  

Garrett was told by a White House aide that a member of the President's advance team had visited Stubb's a few days ago--incognito, clad in a t-shirt and shorts--to scope the joint out and sample the menu.  No one at the restaurant was aware of that surveillance, Garrett said.

But the advancer "loved it," said Garrett.  "He loved the menu and the location, and they put together the visit."

Stubb's doesn't mail-order their meats, but their sauces and marinades are available online; the web address is below.

The President's day in Austin...
After lunch, the President's next stop, also not listed on his schedule, was at nearby Capital Factory, a tech start-up incubator and co-working space.  The President got a tour from founder Josh Baer. (Above, during his tour of Applied Materials, Inc.)
His first stop of the day was Manor New Technology High School, where the President explained his choice of the city as the first stop on his tour: "Partly because I just love Austin, but also because there's some terrific things going on in this area," he said.

President Obama touted his plans to boost the middle class by supporting tech innovation and research to a crowd of about 400 packed into the gym, where he got cheers as he opened his remarks with "Howdy, Manor."  The President also had a student-led tour of classrooms, where he was wowed by the display of talent, including a series of robots.

"You look like some serious engineers," President Obama told the high schoolers, and warned a group operating a robot "don't crash it into your principal."

Texas Governor Rick Perry greeted President Obama on the tarmac at the Austin airport as he arrived at 12:18 PM local time.  The President clapped Perry on the shoulder and they spoke briefly out of earshot of the pool before greeting people gathered behind a rope line.

"It's good to be back in Austin," he said.

The President traveled to Texas with a large entourage that included Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer; Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer; Press Secretary Jay Carney; former US Trade Representative Ron Kirk; Dr. Pat Gallagher, Director of NIST; Mary Maxwell, Dept. of Labor Senior Advisor;  US Rep. Lloyd Doggett; Acting Secretary of Commerce Becky Blank and Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris.

The President returned to Washington, DC, on Thursday evening after making his final stop of the day at Applied Materials, Inc.  His tour will continue with more stops in the weeks ahead, according to the White House.

Information:  Stubb's Bar-B-Que is at 801 Red River Street, Austin, TX 78701.  Phone: (512) 480-8341.  The website.

*Top photo by AP; second by Austin-Statesman; third by Pete Souza/White House; fourth by Chuck Kennedy/White House