Trump greeted warmly at Dundalk diner

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump greeted warmly in Dundalk during a stop Monday.

Word traveled quickly Monday morning: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, in Baltimore for a campaign appearance, might make a stop in Dundalk that afternoon.

The Boulevard Diner, already a popular hangout, filled to capacity, volunteers passed out Trump stickers and signs — and the rumor became reality. The New York businessman strode into the diner about 1:40 p.m., to applause and cheers of "Trump! Trump! Trump!"

Theresa Fogler, standing on tiptoes and holding her phone up to catch a shot of Trump, could barely contain her excitement. The Middle River woman said she's been a fan of Trump for decades, after seeing him give an interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

"I'm so excited," she said. "This is so cool. Absolutely amazing!"

Eastern Baltimore County, a onetime stronghold of centrist Democratic politics, gave Trump significant support this year in the state's Republican primary. Trump captured 77 percent of the GOP vote in the legislative district that encompasses the area, compared with 54 percent statewide.

Once a hub of manufacturing, the Dundalk region also fits neatly into Trump's message of trying to revive parts of the country left behind in a post-industrial economy. Bethlehem Steel, General Motors and other large plants employed tens of thousands of residents here decades ago.

Trump was mobbed by supporters as he made a circuit around the main dining room, shaking hands and posing for pictures. He didn't give a speech or make any public remarks, but had brief interactions with fans who clearly adored him.

Trump then sat down at a corner table with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling and the Rev. Stacey Shiflett, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk.

Trump's security detail stood in front of the table, but patrons craned their necks and tried to take pictures anyway.

Trump's table initially was served hamburgers. But restaurant manager Marc Tsakiris thought the candidate might want to try one of the diner's specialties: a crab cake.

"The Secret Service came in and ordered burgers. I said, 'We've got to at least present him the crab cake,'" Tsakiris said.

Trump turned from the burger (which he ate without the bun) to the crab cake and enjoyed it, according to Salling and Shiflett.

Even as the diner was packed with reporters, campaign staffers and local politicians, the diner staff continued to serve lunch to patrons, delivering burgers and refilling sodas. Some of the wait staff lifted their phones, too, to try and get pictures of Trump in between their duties.

Trump's unscheduled stop made for a "pretty crazy" day for Tsakiris. He first got wind of the possible visit a few days ago but didn't believe it would happen.

As Monday wore on, he said, it seemed more likely. He knew for sure Trump would be coming when he heard it on the radio.

"We really didn't expect it," Tsakiris said. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

The Boulevard Diner has hosted politicians and celebrities before, he said, but no one of the level of fame as Trump.

"We had Guy Fieri one time and this blows that out of the water," Tsakiris said. (The Food Network host filmed an episode of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" at the Boulevard a few years ago.)

Salling said the meal with Trump was his best lunch ever. He said the candidate was "down to earth," and interested in what his dining companions had to say.

"It was pretty exciting, to say the least," Salling said.

Salling used his few minutes with Trump to pitch efforts by Tradepoint Atlantic to redevelop the old Sparrows Point steel mill into an industrial campus. Trump seemed interested, he said.

Shiflett, who is Salling's pastor, said he was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to be invited to eat with Trump.

"He's a lot more personable and a lot more warm than what he's portrayed in the media," Shiflett said.

He said Trump asked him about evangelical Christians and how they might vote in November. Trump also wanted to know more about Gov. Larry Hogan.

Hogan, a Republican, has said he will not vote for Trump. He was not at the Dundalk event.

"He was very interested in Governor Hogan and the cutting of fees and tolls," Shiflett said. Trump also was "intrigued" by Hogan's high approval ratings, Shiflett said.

While Trump and his companions had their lunch, Susan Jimison and Joy Barley and their husbands watched from the next table, trying to get a look at the GOP nominee or catch a snippet of the conversation.

The two couples happened to be having lunch in the diner when someone spotted the Vietnam veterans hats worn by JoJo Jimison and Jack Barley. The couples were asked if they were Trump supporters. When they said yes, they were given campaign stickers and moved to the prime table.

The women were giddy after meeting briefly with Trump. Barley, who lives in Dundalk, said Trump was "very, very polite" and "much better looking in person." She said Trump shook her hand, which is in a brace, and told her to take care of it.

Jimison, visiting from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., also was impressed by Trump's appearance: "His hair looks better in person."

After eating, Trump and his group departed the diner. As he walked toward the door, one person shouted: "Dundalk loves you!" and then cheers of "Trump! Trump! Trump!" broke out again.

Stepping out of the diner, Trump waved to supporters and signed ball caps worn by volunteers. Then he was whisked away.

Baltimore Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article.

pwood@baltsun.com

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