Diners Say No to Dessert With Obama

Casey Helbling surprised by the president's casual conversation.

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If you answer "Barack Obama" to the question "Who would you want to have dinner with in the world?" you are going to be jealous of tech entrepreneur Casey Helbling, who was one of four small dollar donors to dine with the president at Liberty Tavern in Arlington, Va. Thursday night.

Helbling says Obama ordered swordfish and a side salad, but that the chef delivered a special appetizer of Chicago-styled hot dogs with green relish on them, which Obama sampled.

[Check out this slide show of state dinners throughout history.]

The intimate dinner was part of a promotion from the Obama campaign that encouraged supporters to donate just $5 for a chance to eat alongside President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden (who did not attend.)

The campaign paid for dinner and the flights to D.C. for the contest winners. They would have even thrown in dessert, but Helbling says that he and his fellow diners made a mistake of gigantic proportions when they all declined dessert with the president. [See a slide show of 10 reasons Obama should be re-elected.]

Helbling, who is such an Obama supporter that he named one of his sons Maxwell Barack, after the president, says it might be one of the most regrettable decisions of his life.

"We got back in the van and all of us were kicking ourselves and probably will for the rest of our lives. We couldn't believe it; we had all turned down dessert with Barack Obama."

Luckily for Helbling, Obama did reveal a few of the office secrets during the hour-long dinner.

"I learned Obama's not a real early riser; he gets up at seven and then goes to the gym before reporting to the office," Helbling says "And, he is rarely awaken from sleep for emergencies. The last time he had to go to the situation room in the middle of the night was when the Japanese earthquake was going on."

Helbling says that dinner wasn't all small talk though; the group discussed critical veterans, education, and economic issues too.

"It was really remarkable that he was so frank and easy to talk about these things. I was expecting him to be the campaigner, but he wasn't at all. He was just interested in hearing real life stories."

Helbling says that at one point the president seemed troubled by fellow diner Juanita Martinez's story about how a school she worked at in Colorado was so overcrowded and underfunded that kids sat on the floor and the ledges while teachers gave lessons. [Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Below are a few notes from the press pool regarding the dinner.

"It's a pleasant cafe/restaurant, with a green-and-white neon sign outside and cobwebs decorating the windows for Halloween.

"The president was upstairs, seated at a rectangular dark wood table with four supporters who won a campaign raffle contest to have dinner with him. The president was wearing slacks and a light-blue shirt with the cuffs rolled up.

"They are: Juanita Martinez, a retired teacher from Brighton, Colo.; Wendi Smith, an artist and retired professor from Corydon, Ind.; Ken Knight, a U.S. Postal worker from Chandler, Ariz.,; and Casey Helbling, an entrepreneur and small business owner from Minneapolis, Minn.

"… Mr. Knight was telling the president about himself, and could be heard saying something about Michael Jordan the basketball player, a reference at which the president smiled.

  • See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.
  • See editorial cartoons about President Obama.
  • See who's been visiting the White House.