City Paper is not for tourists
President Obama, Malia and Sasha order at Pleasant Pops on Small Business Saturday in Washington pic.twitter.com/4g6r7dw6qu
— TheObamaDiary.com (@TheObamaDiary) November 28, 2015
On Saturday, Pleasant Pops co-owner Roger Horowitz was sitting in the back seat of his mother-in-law’s car, doing errands, when he got a once-in-a-lifetime text from the on-duty manager at his Adams Morgan cafe: “POTUS here in five.”
He thought it might have been a joke.
“We had very little notice,” Horowitz says, of President Barack Obama‘s visit during D.C.’s sixth annual Small Business Saturday. “We’ve had some famous customers that I’ve recognized before, like Ben Olsen from D.C. United, but no one like the president.”
A Secret Service agent informed the manager of Obama’s imminent arrival then scoped out the store for alternative entry points. Three employees were working at the time; none had any other forewarning that the leader of the free world was about to drop by with his daughters, Sasha and Malia, for a treat. (That day, Obama also visited Upshur Street Books in Petworth, revealing his penchant for Franzen, Rushdie, and other authors.)
“It’s the kind of thing we’ve always been joking about for years,” says Horowitz. He and his business partner, Brian Sykora, opened the Adams Morgan store in 2012 after the popsicles premiered at the Mount Pleasant farmers market in 2010. “‘Oh yeah, maybe the president will come in; maybe Michelle will come in.’ All of my staff said they had so little time to prepare that they just went with it; if they’d been told two days before, they might have been nervous about saying the wrong thing.”
Horowitz himself knows a thing or two about Obama, having worked as a field organizer for the then-candidate back in 2007 and 2008. He lived for various periods in Reno, Las Vegas, Idaho, Mississippi, and Chapel Hill—where he and Sykora, also a former Obama organizer, were UNC undergraduate roommates—focusing on the youth vote. Now 30, the small business owner says he still “very much” favors the president, adding that Pleasant Pops “has always been pretty progressive as far as businesses go”: It offers health insurance and supports paid family leave.
Although he’d moved to D.C. in 2009 hoping to get a job in the newly inaugurated Obama administration, Horowitz says the plan didn’t work out and he instead hustled across a few jobs, including as a paralegal, at the Census Bureau, at a property-management company, and as a bilingual Spanish teacher. (“I’m sure I could write a book just about that,” he quips.) Pleasant Pops now has two locations in D.C., in Adams Morgan and downtown.
As for memorializing the Obamas’ visit, Horowitz says the team hasn’t made any decisions. “We’re not going to rename the strawberry ginger lemonade the Obama pop,” he says. (Obama had that flavor while Sasha and Malia ordered cranberry apple and Carolyn‘s cookies-and-cream—an homage to Horowitz’s mother-in-law—respectively.) “We’re much more creative at making pop flavors than we are at naming them.”
Still, “it was awesome,” Horowitz says. “One of the best parts was getting to see that a bunch of our neighborhood regulars were there.”