Dinner in Denver, pizza with the president

President Obama visited Denver on the first leg of a three-day trip to tout economic gains, fundraise and meet with ordinary citizens. Here are some thing to do in Denver when you're president. (Tom LeGro and Natalie Jennings/The Washington Post)

Education, health care, loans and wages were all on the menu for President Obama Tuesday night. Arriving in Denver to kick off his three-day “the bear is loose” tour, Obama dined with five ordinary Americans who wrote to him about their everyday concerns. The dinner was carefully orchestrated, an attempt to show the president as a leader in touch with his country. The only misstep came from a man wearing a horse mask and someone who offered him a "hit."

The entourage arrived at the Wazee Supper Club, which TripAdvisor gives a four star rating, just before 7 p.m. The table was set up for pizzas and the letter writers were sinking beers while waiting for their illustrious guest. Although the White House said Tuesday the president would be dining with ‘Alex,’ some more folks were rounded up, all of whom were eager to eat pizza and chat with Obama.

The mystery Alex turned out to be Alex Dooley, a graduate of the University of Arkansas who works at a furniture upholstery store in Denver. She wrote to the president earlier this year, thanking him for calling on businesses in his State of the Union address to increase the minimum wage, which resulted in a voluntary rise from her boss -- even though Alex didn't watch the speech herself.

Alex Dooley, a worker at a furniture upholstery store in Denver who says she received a raise after President Obama's State of the Union address encouraging an increase in minimum wage, introduced the president before his speech on the economy on Wednesday. (WhiteHouse.gov)

Another guest was Elizabeth Cooper, a student at the University of Northern Colorado who wrote to the president about her concerns over college affordability. Cooper has federal loans and occasional financial assistance from her parents, yet still struggles to make ends meet.

Entrepreneurs Carolyn Reed and David Johnson also joined, thanking Obama for the opportunity to expand their chain of sandwich shops through an Small Business Administration loan. The pair now owns six branches of Silver Mine Subs in Denver. Reed also thanked the president in for the Affordable Care Act – both Reed and Johnson are enrolled in the Colorado state exchange.

Finally, teacher Leslie Gresham rounded off the party. A mother of two who has been in education for 26 years, Gresham wrote to the president to stress the importance of early childhood education. Gresham, who has been awarded early childhood educator of the year, explained to the president the difference she has seen in children who'd enjoyed early exposure to education.

Sadly, the press pool was kicked out of the restaurant after five minutes, so most of what the group discussed remains a mystery.  "I'm so glad you're here," Obama said when he arrived at the restaurant. For a group of Denver residents who simply wrote letters to the White House, they probably were too.

Speaking in Denver’s Cheesman Park this morning, the president said he receives 40,000 pieces of correspondence everyday  – ten of which he usually reads.  Referring to his pizza dinner last night and emails and letters he receives, Obama said “they reminded me why I ran for office and what I’m supposed to be doing every single day...every day I receive these thousands of acts of hopes from you.”

Sebastian Payne is a national reporter with The Washington Post. He is the Post’s 35th Laurence Stern fellow.
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