BOARDMAN - Tom Zidian had Barack Obama's request for some spaghetti sauce covered long before the president had a chance to ask him for some Friday morning.
"He made the comment he hoped he'd get some spaghetti sauce," Zidian explained. "I had a nice package already fixed up for him. He said he planned to share it with his friends at Camp David."
Zidian, owner and CEO of Summer Garden Food Manufacturing in Boardman, said he expected to still be pinching himself today after the president's visit to his business on Friday as part of a sweep through the area. The president also stopped in Poland before heading to Pennsylvania.
President Barack Obama stands with Summer Garden Food Manufacturing President and CEO Tom Zidian, left, and employee Brian Zidian while touring Summer Garden Food Manufacturing in Boardman on Friday.
"This is just not something you expect to happen," Zidian said after the president left Summer Garden. "How often does something like this really happen?"
Zidian said he was first notified via a telephone call "from Obama's people" June 30 that the president was considering Summer Garden as one of his local stops. Within an hour after that conversation, Obama representatives were at the business. By Monday, it was clear the president was on his way.
"When they called, they asked a lot of questions about the business and wanted to know more about it," Zidian explained. "They said the president wanted to visit a local manufacturing plant while he was here. I knew by 6:15 Monday night he was coming ."
Zidian said he was told his place was chosen because it's been consistently growing over the past few years, expanding and creating jobs. The business is installing a Deli Fresh Refrigerated processing line that will allow them to service refrigerated grocery departments. The company, founded in 1948 by the late John Zidian Sr. as a family owned and operated food wholesaler, is also a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified Green Facility, explained Zidian.
On Friday, about 50 people, about half of them media representatives and the other half with Obama, gathered at Summer Garden.
"(Obama) was truly into learning about how we do what we do and the whole process of it," Zidian said. "He walked through and paid close attention to everything. He was genuinely interested."
Zidian said that Obama in person came across to him the same as he does on TV.
"What you see on TV is what you get," Zidian said. "He was real, down-to-earth. He seemed sincere. And he's the president. It was quite an experience."
Later, Danny Potkanowicz, an employee of Summer Garden Food Market, introduced the president to the crowd and Dobbins Elementary School.
Potkanowicz told the crowd his story of losing his small family business, learning new skills and 2 1/2 years ago getting a job with his current employer.
"I did side jobs to keep my family safe and to keep food on the table," Potkanowicz said. "I finally got a call from Summer Garden about 2 1/2 years ago. They were expanding and they needed an industrial engineer."
"We work a lot of hours," he said.
Afterward, Potkanowicz admitted he was nervous in the hours before his speech, but said those nerves ended when the president arrived on the school grounds.
"He told me to picture everyone in the audience in funny hats," Potkanowicz said. "That calmed me down."