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President surprises east Portland diners


President Barack Obama visited Portland last month, greeting diners at the Gateway Breakfast House in a surprise stop on the way to fundraisers at the Oregon Convention Center. He poses with Margaret Jones while her Foliage Services co-worker, Beth Pedro, takes their picture. Ironically, Jones and Pedro, both Republicans, had invited two co-workers - Democrats and Obama voters - to join them at their favorite local diner, but they declined because of calorie counting; and are now soaked in regret.
Michael Lloyd/The Oregonian
More than a week after President Barack Obama's surprise visit to the Gateway Breakfast House last month, things have not returned to normal.

That is a good thing.

Since the visit, server Tim King, a 23-year-old lifelong resident of Parkrose is still reeling. He said he is asked about it “at least a hundred times a day.” Reveling in the memory for a moment, he paused and added, “It was awesome … really exciting.”

King said they got ten minutes notice of the President's unscheduled visit before his motorcade arrived.

Reassured the business - a small, 13-table restaurant in the Parkrose Heights neighborhood of east Portland serving breakfast and lunch only - would remain open during the visit, King said it did not matter. Because of the cordon of security and government personnel around the building, by default, no one was able to reach the front door anyway. “They had like 30 CIA agents out front,” King said. “Nobody could get in. But, the people that were here got to stay.”

King was suitably impressed with the President's demeanor and manners. “I thought it was pretty cool how he took the time to go up to each table and introduce himself,” King said. “He shook everyone's hand and took pictures with all of them.” Billy Farrington, King's co-worker and also a server, added, “I couldn't believe it. He introduced himself to people. Wow.”

After finishing his lunch and conversation with the specially invited veterans, and posing for a few more photos, the President left.

“As soon as he left,” King said, “every news channel showed up; the phone was ringing for two hours straight - constantly with reporters, news [people] and radio. They even showed up and interviewed some of the customers.”

The President's visit has been good for business. Weekday revenue is up between four and five hundred dollars a day King said. “Everybody that comes in and asks about him are all new faces,” he said. “They're all really happy with the food and everything. They all want to come back. They never knew about this place until then.”
On the first weekend following his visit, it was difficult to estimate how much more business there was because of the wait. “The line was longer than usual,” King said.

When you walk in the restaurant now, it is hard to miss the large, framed reproduction of the Oregonian front page with the photo of the President in the restaurant right by the cash register, next to one of the staff; a day to remember for all of them. “It's something I'll never forget,” King said. “Ever.”
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