When restaurateur John Philips heard one morning this month that Las Gemelas, his new Washington, D.C., taqueria, was getting a visit from Small Business Administration officials, he thought it was curious how many plainclothes secret service agents showed up in advance. It all made sense when President Joe Biden walked through the doors instead.
Biden was there for lunch, yes, but also for business. He wanted to personally inform Philips, part of a team of owners, that Las Gemelas was the first restaurant to receive funding from the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund that helps small businesses that are majority-owned (as Las Gemelas is) by women, veterans and/or socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Las Gemelas is set to receive $667,000 to offset business difficulties caused by the pandemic.
But let’s get back to the tacos. I spoke to Philips about how the visit from the President turned out to be a stimmy all its own—boosting business by about 30 percent overnight and continuing to draw crowds.
“The Biden bump is real,” Philips says, “and so is the Biden bundle, which is all anyone is asking about.”
I understand the Biden bump. What’s a Biden bundle?
John Philips: That’s what we call his order—because the President ordered a lot. He got tacos al pastor, tacos de lengua, tacos de carnitas, and tacos de barbacoa. He also got two quesadillas—con chorizo and con hongos. As the President pointed out [on a video shared on Instagram by chef Rob Aikens] these were his tacos, not anyone else’s. And now we have customers coming in saying, I’ll have what the President had. So we send them away with the bundle.
Your restaurant opened on March 15 after being delayed for almost a year by the shutdown. What was it like having Biden among the early wave of customers?
John Philips: It felt really nice. I’m from Delaware and grew up about three blocks from Biden’s house. He’s a hometown hero. To see him walk through the door was validating. We talked for a few minutes and it turns out his granddaughter goes to the same high school I attended. It felt like a friend checking in more than the President of the United States coming for tacos.
How challenging was it this year to survive as a small-business owner?
John Philips: We did okay. Our other restaurant, Espita, got PPP money to keep us afloat, and we made good decisions in planning. A lot of restaurants planned in summer for winterizing outdoor space but we took a different approach and said, how can we winterize the business? Our food at Espita isn’t particularly takeout friendly, so we came up with a concept called Ghostburger, a burger and cheese steak operation that took off immediately. It’s comfort food and even when we go back to our original plan, there’s no way we’re saying goodbye to Ghostburger.
Do you expect you’ll see the President again?
John Philips: I’m not sure but it was a pretty lucky visit. He probably didn’t notice this but the cost of his order came to 46, which must be an omen of some kind.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.