President Barack Obama’s much-buzzed-about visit to Taylor Gourmet Italian Deli on 14th Street NW yesterday ended with an exclamation, according to Taylor co-owner David Mazza. The president took one look at the Spruce Street sandwich he ordered and said, “This is a big sandwich. A BIG SANDWICH.”
The leader of the free world then took his turkey hoagie and $68 worth of additional sandwiches for a White House luncheon with congressional leaders, left $100 and said to keep the change, signed a few autographs, and left the building in a tornado of staff, sirens, and flashbulbs.
When I ran into Mazza around lunchtime in the line at the Greek Deli on 19th Street NW, near where Taylor will open its fifth location this summer, he told me how it had all come together. I had in mind the old Phil Hartman Saturday Night Live skit lampooning President Bill Clinton’s jogging detours to McDonald’s, but the course of events can actually be traced back to Mazza’s encounter with a woman on H Street NE, shortly after he and his business partner Casey Patten opened their flagship location in 2009.
The woman was Bridget Bean, a longtime Small Business Administration staffer who is now director of the agency’s Washington Metropolitan District Office. Mazza was introduced to Bean by Anwar Saleem, the head of H Street Main Street whom many consider to be the godfather of growth in the white-hot neighborhood.
“I gave her my card, and a few weeks later we were in her office shooting the shit,” Mazza says. “She was great, and she turned us onto a 504 SBA loan, which we ended up securing to build both our Bethesda and City Vista locations.”
Mazza and Patten developed a close relationship with Bean, but even they were a bit anxious when Bean left a “we gotta talk” message on their phone last week.
“I was scared she was going to rip into us because we recently refinanced our SBA loans without getting in touch with her,” Mazza says. “I tried to get Casey to call her back, but he wouldn’t do it, so I just said, ‘Fuck it,’ and called her.”
As it turns out, Bean had a much more benign proposition to put on the table. She asked if Mazza and Patten wanted to be part of a roundtable discussion on small business with Obama.
“My hands started shaking,” says Mazza. “I said, ‘Uh yeah, done and done,’ and she told me to expect a call from the Secret Service.”
A couple days went by and then the presidential juggernaut started to steam ahead. Mazza got a call from a White House staffer who told him Taylor had made it into the final group for the event. Then, the Secret Service came to the 14th Street NW location and did a thorough security sweep. The next day, agents returned to rearrange furniture and take bomb-sniffing dogs through the building. The White House sent Mazza and Patten a dossier of notes on topics they were encouraged to get familiar with before the meeting.
On Tuesday night, a contingent of agents and White House press staffers visited to make final preparations.
“Behind the scenes, they were the coolest people,” Mazza says of the agents and staffers. “They really put us at ease. We made lasagna for them, talked over the event and took some photos.”
Yesterday morning, a phalanx of agents again swept the building with dogs and instructed everyone but Mazza, Patten, and a few other top Taylor lieutenants to leave. They were joined by Brian Smith, a founding principal of Francis Lee Contracting, and Kathy Rachels, president of Yes! Organic Markets.
“There’s no way to be ready for it,” Mazza says. “All of a sudden, you hear the motorcade coming and helicopters overhead, and then the president walks in the door.”
The rest of the experience was a blur. There was talk of SBA loans and White House policies on small business. Mazza can’t remember exactly, but he thinks Taylor’s director of operations, Robert Coppock, made the president’s sandwich—the “coolest sandwich ever made at Taylor Gourmet,” Mazza says.
“The president is a guy’s guy,” says Mazza. “I promise that you’d feel comfortable around him. It was unforgettable.”
All in all, he says, it was a Wednesday to remember. Or maybe not: “Today’s Casey’s birthday, and we plan to go out on 14th Street and have some cocktails and go over the day as many times as we can before we black out.”