To put their name on New Hampshire’s primary ballot, candidates for president visit the Secretary of State’s office at the statehouse. Where they go after filing - is often to a restaurant across the street.
It’s a well-worn path from the State House across Concord’s Main Street to the Barley House. Ohio Governor John Kasich made the walk just last week, a day after former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.
Kasich's event was closed to reporters, so we didn’t get to actually see Kasich mingle with supporters over burgers, French fries and deep-fried Brussels sprouts. But he’s been here several times before – and he’s far from the only White House hopeful to order off its menu.
“Yeah, they obviously all come through here every season," says Michele Zydenbos, who's worked here for more than a dozen years. She and her colleagues have served pints of Smuttynose beer to Senators Bernie Sanders and Lindsey Graham, and a Texas-style burger to that state’s former governor, Rick Perry.
The Barley House opened in 2000, but Zydenbos says it didn’t turn into a must-visit for candidates until the 2008 campaign. “That primary season was definitely when it kicked it into high gear, with the Huckaburger."
Wait, the Huckaburger?
“We had the Huckaburger [that year]," she says, laughing. The burger named for Mike Huckabee featured a lean beef patty on a whole wheat bun - the former Arkansas governor had famously lost over 100 pounds ahead of his first presidential run - topped with spinach, tomato and, an Arkansas specialty, fried pickles.
Huckabee was on hand when owner Brian Shea unveiled the Huckaburger, and said, “Years and years from now, after I’ve served my second term as president, this burger will be the signature item." Then, turning to Shea, he asked, "Isn’t that right?
“Absolutely!” replied the owner, to which Huckabee joked, “You have a future in politics.”
The Barley House isn’t just known for politics. General manager Brad Corbett says the restaurant is equally well known for burgers. There are eight of them on the menu, including the Dublin burger - “A house-ground patty, peppercorn chard, then there’s whiskey pepper gravy, imperial blue cheese, and crispy onions with lettuce and tomato," Corbett says. "A very interesting flavor profile for a burger.”
There’s also the homemade hummus, free to each table with a glass full of pretzel rods and breadsticks.
And the restaurant is trying to bring the sport of Irish hurling to the U.S. with its own hurling team, the Barley House Wolves.
But with so many would-be presidents dropping by – not to mention state political leaders who come across the street for lunch – paying a visit, politics is an ever-larger part of the Barley House’s story.
And server Michele Zydenbos says that helps keeps her engaged not only with politics, but public policy, too.
“It's fun to stay engaged," she says. "I went and testified in front of the Senate and House of Representatives for Medicaid expansion. And when they saw me over there, it was like, remember who serves your food!”
With a few more days left for candidates to file their primary paperwork, the Barley House may see more hopefuls visit. And when they do, their photos will end up on the wall, not far from a picture of a former president that’s mocked up with the Barley House’s slogan.
“Like the Theodore Roosevelt over there," Zydenbos says, "the Road to the White House begins at the Barley House. They’re going to have to come in here first."