POTUS Prep: How a Local Bistro Transforms Into A Presidential Dinner Destination

When President Obama goes out for dinner it is no casual affair.

March 12, 2012, 2:27 PM

March 12, 2012 -- How does a neighborhood bistro prepare to serve dinner to the president?

Hectically, nervously, and under the constant supervision of a small army of men in suits with not-so-discreet earpieces, and presidential seal lapel pins.

Boundary Road, a "cozy and rustic" American bistro in Washington, D.C.'s blossoming H St. corridor, had been open for barely a month when its operations manager Erin Lingle got the call from President Obama's Chicago campaign headquarters.

"They told us it was going to be a party of 40 people that the campaign was having for some of their donators," Lingle told ABC News. "But they were vague about some of the details."

Four days, one jumbo tent, a hoard of cameras and lights, and a thorough sweep from the Secret Service later, and the quaint brick-walled, wooden-tabled bistro was transformed into a presidential dining destination.

But rather than the high-dollar 40-person fundraiser first solicited, the dinner turned out to be a much more intimate affair.

Amid the restaurant's recycled-wire lamps and restored wood floors, the president and first lady shared a meal with three small-dollar donors who had won the third Obama for America "Dinner with Barack" grassroots donation contest. The prize included round-trip airfare for the winner and a guest, a D.C.-area hotel room, and dinner with the Commander-in-Chief.

"It was just an incredible evening," said Lingle, who served the president's dinner party along with the restaurants two other managers. "It was exciting. It was crazy and you feel like it was a movie or something like that."

The countdown to POTUS and FLOTUS (President of the United States and First Lady of the United States) began at noon last Friday when the hoard of Secret Service agents descended upon the 72-seat bistro in Washington's Northeast quadrant.

The entire restaurant was closed for the day as campaign staff set up special lighting and camera crews assembled their equipment around the table for eight, to film the event for Obama's re-election website. A giant white tent was assembled outside to conceal the president's arrival and barricades were constructed at either end of the street to block traffic.

A Navy mess officer, brought in as part of the president's security detail, stood watch in the kitchen as Boundary Road's owner Brad Walker, who is also the restaurant's head chef, swept his nerves aside to prepare one of the restaurant's signature dishes for the country's top leader.

After the six guests, flown in from Tennessee, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, arrived around 5 P.M., anxiousness set in, Lingle said. Soon the low rumble of the 14-car presidential motorcade drifted into the room and cheers erupted on the sidewalk outside as the Obama-mobile pulled into the huge white tent.

"When Barack and Michelle came through the door, they entered in and the guests were here, everyone was so nervous," Lingle said. "As soon as they walked in everyone felt at ease."

Lingle said the first couple was "incredibly lovely and warm and made everyone feel at home at the table."

"They wanted it run like a normal restaurant," she said.

While Lingle was forbidden to disclose what the first couple ate or who paid, she said they ordered off the regular menu, which includes everything from a homemade peanut butter and peach vanilla jelly sandwich topped with foie gras, to chicken grilled between foil-wrapped bricks.

"I think they liked it," Lingle said, adding that Mrs. Obama said she would come back again.

When asked if she thought the restaurant got the "presidential bump," she said the phones have been "ringing non-stop."

"We've only been open for a month and that's as good as it gets right? There's no moving up from there," Lingle said of the presidential visit. "It was fantastic. It would be amazing if they would ever come back."

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