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Wayne Post
  • Lunch with the President: Obama stops by Rochester

  • The President and his motorcade came through Rochester on Thursday afternoon, stopping for a bite at Magnolia's restaurant on Park Avenue.
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  • He was coming, but nobody knew when or where.
    With President Barack Obama's bus tour scheduled to take him from Buffalo to Syracuse on Thursday, and Twitter was abuzz with rumors that the POTUS would visit Rochester for lunch.
    But which local institution would he stop at, Nick Tahou's or Sticky Lips?
    At around 1:45 p.m., supporters who gathered outside Nick Tahou's downtown heard he would eat on Park Avenue instead. By the time his bus — unofficially labeled "Ground Force One" — rolled to a stop in front of Magnolia's minutes later, many of them had already raced across town to see him.
    "I just shook hands with Obama," said a beaming Lili Becktell as she and friends Lisa Skavienski and Alexa Domigan left Magnolia's, where they just happened to meet for lunch. "We were just sitting there and were told a special guest was coming so we had to move," said Becktell.
    She quickly learned it wasn't just any guest, but the president himself.
    "He's so handsome up close; he's fantastic, gracious and kind," Becktell said. "He came around to all the tables and shook hands," Becktell said. "He even held and kissed a baby," she said, adding, "And he had the best handshake I've ever had."
    After the presidential motorcade was followed by loud cheers down Park Avenue, Kevin Graham couldn't wipe the smile off his face, either. The University of Rochester employee heard about the president's whereabouts on social media when he left work with a group of coworkers and students to catch a glimpse.
    They were standing outside the cafe when a Secret Service agent invited them inside. As Graham said, "The rest is history."
    "I just shook his hand and it was probably one of the most phenomenal moments in my life," said Graham. "The guy actually had the softest hands in the world," he added with a laugh. "This is something I'll tell my kids about when I get married and have a family. I will remember this forever."
    While the Commander in Chief was lunching on artichoke and tomato soup and half a grilled cheese sandwich, bystanders lined Park Avenue with camera phones. Sounds of thunder sent a murmur through the crowd, as raindrops began to fall.
    Xerox employee Joanne Marino was joined by coworkers who joined her to catch a glimpse of the president, who sat in the front passenger seat of a bus.
    "We took a late lunch to see the president," Marino said. "Just to even see him pass by is worth it."
    Sidestreets between East Avenue and Park were closed for part of the afternoon. Local officials and law enforcement rose to the challenge on short notice.
    "We like to be noticed, you know?" said Rochester Mayor Tom Richards. "We would have been disappointed if he drove right on by us here, which he didn't."
    Page 2 of 2 - Obama ate with area college students after his morning speech in Buffalo about affordability of higher education. The lunch meeting came before Obama's trip to Syracuse later in the afternoon.
    "There was a lot more spontaneity with it than you would expect," said Richards. "Usually when a president visits you know three days in advance. This was very informal. The people in the restaurant just happened to be sitting there and in this guy walks. It was nice to have him here."
    Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard said that many hoped Obama would stop in Rochester during his swing through Western New York.
    "They obviously kept it on the down low. I think people dug it out a little bit and that's why there were so many people here," said Sheppard. "I was impressed."
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