President Obama June 28

Cynthia Ross-Freidhof gets a hug from President Barack Obama when he made a surprise visit to Ross' Restaurant in Bettendorf Tuesday June 28, 2011. Obama was en route to speak to workers at the Alcoa Davenport Works Factory. (Kevin E. Schmidt/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Kevin E. Schmidt

It was the lunch hour, so naturally President Barack Obama stopped off at Ross' 24-Hour Restaurant. After all, he was in the neighborhood.

The president made good on a 2008 campaign promise Tuesday, making a visit to the longtime Bettendorf diner for the house speciality, a Magic Mountain, before heading to Alcoa Davenport Works for a tour and a speech on the economy.

Obama worked the restaurant, shaking hands with startled diners and offering to treat them to the restaurant's signature dish, although he put a stipulation on the press corps, saying he would pay up only if they ate the whole thing.

When there were no takers, he teased, "you chickens."

The president's stop was a surprise to diners.

"I come in for lunch, and there's the president. Holy smokes," said Stephen Forari, a regular from Davenport, who was sitting at a counter when Obama and his entourage came through the door.

Even owner Cynthia Freidhof said she didn't know the visit was coming and had gone outside to watch the motorcade pass, only to realize she ought to go back inside to greet her special guest.

The president and Freidhof hugged, and she thanked him profusely for stopping by.

"You are so awesome," she told him.

He asked her how her business was doing, and she said it was doing fine.

"I'm thrilled to be here," the president said.

Later, Freidhof told reporters, "I think he's a man of his word, always, and he's doing the very best job that he can. And I just can't believe he's here, but it's real."

The president dropped some money into the restaurant's coffers, ordering four Magic Mountains - loose hamburger meat on grilled Texas Toast covered with cheese sauce, french fries and, if requested, onions - as well as two Volcanoes. The latter adds chili to the top.

The president's stop came three years after a pledge he made at a town hall meeting at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, where Freidhof told then-Sen. Obama that her husband, Ron, hadn't decided whom to vote for. Obama asked her to get him on the phone and, while waiting for the connection, he said he would have to try a Magic Mountain someday.

It wasn't the first time the Freidhofs have offered a presidential candidate their signature dish. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, after politely declining at first, took a few bites when he stopped into the restaurant during the 2008 caucus cycle.

(Bill Wundram contributed to this story.)


Ed Tibbetts, Kurt Allemeier, Barb Ickes, Bill Wundram, Kay Luna, Rashah McChesney, Doug Schorpp, Steven Martens, Mark Ridolfi, Deirdre Cox Baker, Kevin Schmidt and John Schultz were in the field reporting or photographing what they saw and heard. Meanwhile, Rick Rector, Stephanie DePasquale and Ryan Jaster were in the office updating with the latest information.