ORLANDO, Fla. — President Obama has been courting the Hispanic vote heavily, so he didn’t miss an opportunity to reach out to locals during a campaign stop in this city.
Heading to a scheduled appearance at Rollins College, Obama and his motorcade pulled off the highway for a stop at a Puerto Rican restaurant called Lechonera El Barrio. The cafe, whose specialty is suckling pig and fried plantains, is in the Azalea Park neighborhood, a largely Hispanic working- and middle-class neighborhood on Orlando’s east side.
Such stops are called “off the record” events in White House lingo, meaning they have not been announced to the media ahead of time. The president often does such events to draw additional media coverage doing ordinary-type things and interacting with key constituencies.
Obama entered the small diner with an orange shingled roof from the front door, surprising a lunchtime crowd of patrons, including several who set down their pork and beans to snap pictures of the president. Obama bought a $6 plate of pulled pork with rice and beans.
As the employees were preparing the food, the president greeted diners, who were crowded around rectangular tables in the cramped establishment. A Puerto Rico banner hung from the ceiling. One diner, wearing an Orlando Magic cap, posed with Obama for a picture, as did a table of women and girls.
Eventually, the president came out the front carrying two white plastic bags of food. In the meantime, Secret Service had cleared a group of younger school children, and some adult chaperones, who had been participating in a summer program called New Beginnings nearby. They gathered behind yellow security tape and Obama approached them after dropping off his bags of food in the presidential limo.
Obama greeted the group, asking them what they’ve been doing during the summer. The kids said lots of sports.
“Okay, I’ve got to take a picture with everybody,” Obama said. He then instructed “just the kids” to duck under the yellow security tape and stand in front of the restaurant with him.
Obama and White House photographer Pete Souza arranged the kids and then the president stood behind them and said “cheese” several times, as as Souza — and several press photographers — snapped away in the blazing sun.
Afterward, Obama told the kids: “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.”
And with that, the president and his motorcade departed en route for his scheduled speech at the nearby college.