Hosting a President for Lunch

Hosting a President for Lunch

Fireflies’ owner looks back on the day President Obama paid her restaurant a visit.

The Obama administration’s time in the White House comes to a close this week. During their tenure in town, the president and his family were known to venture across the river for dinner on occasion, visiting the likes of everywhere from Restaurant Eve to Del Ray Pizzeria to the Majestic. On one summer day in 2014, President Obama found his way to Fireflies in Del Ray for lunch, much to the surprise and delight of his fellow diners. Here’s a look back on the occasion from the vantage point of owner Marylisa Lichens.

In November 2013, Lichens wrote a letter to the president expressing her concern and dismay regarding the state of the federal government. On the heels of the government shutdown that October, Lichens wrote the president that she was dissatisfied with how the shutdown was affecting American small businesses and closed by saying she knew he enjoyed a good burger — he was welcome at Fireflies any time.

“Sure enough, (about) six months later, we got a call” from the president’s staff, Lichens said. “… My chef called me and said, ‘So, the president’s coming for lunch.’”

There was only one problem from Lichens’ point of view: That day in June was the first Tuesday she’d taken off in months, and she was miles away. She spun the car around and headed back toward Alexandria.

“Meanwhile, I’m driving down 66, trying to get down to the restaurant in time,” she said, until she received a call from the president’s team, who advised her to lay off the gas pedal; Obama would be dining and leaving before she would be able to get back to Del Ray.

“Apparently the president walked into the restaurant and said, ‘Hey, where’s Marylisa — I wanted her to know I read her letter,’” she said. Upon realizing she was away from the restaurant, there was only one thing for the president to do: Reach her by phone.

“The whole car ride, until he actually called me, I was practicing” what to say, Lichens said. “As soon as I heard his voice I started sobbing into the phone. … His final words to me at the end (of the call) were: ‘I hope this helps you out.’ ”

“I was very touched that — you kind of send these letters out into the ether and never know if they’re going to touch base or not … and I’ve always been a fan of his, and it was just really cool that he read it and knew my name,” Lichens said.

And as for the meal of the day? Lichens can rattle it off from memory.

“He ordered the American burger, which is always on our menu — of course he had to order the American burger — but he did substitute white cheddar for the American cheese, no mayonnaise, no onions, and he added Dijon mustard,” she said. “He said it was a really good burger.”

Hope Nelson owns and operates the Kitchen Recessionista blog, located at Email her any time at