Rob Chivoloni, owner/chef of Café Beuregard, stands wit his wife, Alice Bruno, behind the counter of his New Britain Café. Behind them, sitting on top of a soda cooler, is the chair that President Barack Obama sat in yesterday while eating at their New Britain sandwich shop.
About a week ago, Chiovoloni was told that the Governor may stop by for lunch. But he and his employees knew from press reports that the President would be in town for a rally on the minimum wage issue, so they were excited. However, as the week went on, and no one said anything more, he figured it wasn’t going to happen. But some interesting customers, ordering large take out orders, and asking probing questions, piqued their curiosity. Then late Wednesday morning his wife told them that a Secret Service agent was at the counter asking if the President could stop by for lunch.
Chiovolini, a graduate of the class of 1968 from the Culinary Institute of America, has some experience serving Presidents. He was the executive chef at the Madison Hotel in Washington D.C. for both of President Reagan’s Inaugural balls. He’s worked in restaurants since, but only recently opened this restaurant in December of 2013.
A couple hours after the agent arrived, President Obama, four Governors and the Sec. of Labor walked through the door. Obama looked at the menu, then asked Chiovoloni what he would recommend. To Chiovoloni, it was obvious. He suggested the Spicy Korean BBQ Steak, which is a marinated thinly sliced New York Strip steak. “I don’t know of anywhere else you can get such a fine sandwich.” he said. Obama must have liked it, since he ate the whole sandwich, a bowl of chili, a couple of Amaretti cookies, and shared a slice of Tarte Tatin.
While sitting in the main dining room, and before the food was served, Obama talked about the importance of a higher minimum wage, and mentioned that Chiovolini, paid all his workers over $10.00 an hour. Chiovoloni, doesn’t know why the President choose his restaurant over others, but that, and the fact that he and his wife live in New Britain, may have played a role. “They could have chosen anywhere to eat,” he said.
But through his long career serving customers, this is very special. “It’s the coolest feeling to the world. Looking into the dining room and seeing the President and four governors, enjoying your food. Not just eating it, but enjoying it,” said Chiovoloni.
When the group was finished eating, the President offered to pay, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said since the President was a guest, Malloy would pick up the tab. And since the café doesn’t accept tips, that wasn’t an issue.
Chiovoloni doesn’t know what they will do with the chair. They took it out of circulation just so they have some options. But he’s reluctant to use the fact that President ate at his restaurant as a marketing tool. He’s not sure yet even to change the name of the sandwich. “I’m in the minority, but the majority of the opinion thinks it should be called the Presidential BBQ. But I’m just honored that the president came here and enjoyed the food. There might be a tasteful way to memorialize his visit without slapping his name on a sandwich,” he said, adding, “It is the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me.”