The path to the White House runs through the ham house, or at least that’s the story that Tommy Stevenson likes to tell.
Stevenson, the owner of Tommy’s Country Ham House in Greenville, serves up country ham, eggs, grits and a side of politics — at least during election season.
Tommy’s Ham House opened 26 years ago in Greenville, moving just once, to its location at 214 Rutherford Road.
And while Saturday mornings are normally busy at the restaurant that touts country cooking, Saturday’s crowd set records.
Stevenson said he would guess there were more than 1,000 people who filled the eatery and spilled into the parking lot.
Why? Well, it seems there was a bit of confusion on the political circuit. Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were scheduled to appear at the ham house at 10:45 a.m. Friday night, Romney changed his event to 9:30 a.m., after learning Gingrich also was making a stop at the breakfast nook.
The nation was watching to see who might emerge with a ham house victory.
“We’ve had just about every candidate since Bush 12 years ago," Stevenson said. “Well, Obama and Hillary didn’t stop, they’re probably the only two.”
It was standing room only at Tommy’s from the front door to the back door and every space in between. Blocking the aisles, standing too closely to diners enjoying breakfast, and creating a serving nightmare for the wait staff.
“Hot food coming through,” one waitress shouted, trying to get through the crowd. “Sorry, some people thought this was a restaurant.”
But the ham house was trending on Twitter, right alongside Heidi Klum, Seal and the Princess Diaries, before the second candidate had even arrived.
Diners Eric and Cara Morris of Greenville actually came out for breakfast this morning. It was on their drive in to the restaurant, they heard the news that both candidates were expected to appear.
“This has been one of our favorites places for breakfast since we moved here four years, ago,” said Cara Morris, who was holding the couples’ daughter Caroline. “We come here quite often for breakfast.”
Eric Morris asked his wife, “Do we want to stay and extra 20 minutes or so and see them?”
The Morris’ were hesitant with the growing crowd and a little one to think about.
“We’ve already knocked over half our oatmeal,” his wife laughed. “It would be great to see them in person, so we’ll see how she does."
The Morris’ said they were both undecided on whom each would vote later in the day.
“Newt is so polarizing, he riles people up,” Eric Morris said. “But Romney probably has a better chance. I’m hoping for divine intervention at the polls.”
Eric Morris said it was funny to listen to the people sitting around him. Many had never been to the restaurant that he said has “the best breakfast in town.”
Voter Don Smith of Greenville cast his ballot for Gingrich this morning before coming to the ham house for breakfast.
“My wife, Sharon, wanted to go to Atlanta Bread to eat and we decided to come here,” Smith said. “I just wanted to see the crowd. I didn’t realize that Newt was coming until I got here. “
Romney appeared at the ham house 45 minutes before Gingrich’s arrival. Speaking from the doorway near the entrance to the restaurant, Romney couldn’t be heard or seen by those in the back of the restaurant, including members of the press.
Fortunately, the diners were patient, Stevenson said.
This is the first time we have had two candidates at once,” Stevenson said. “It was a bit of zoo. My wait staff and my kitchen staff are the best in the country. They did a great job today.”
Stevenson, who is usually closing the restaurant at noon, was still serving customers at 1 p.m., because of the long wait to get a table.
Bill Curtis of Austin, Texas, said he had eaten at the restaurant four days straight, since arriving in Greenville to help support Gingrich.
“You can’t get real country ham in Texas, I’m in heaven,” Curtis said. “I was listening to radio show and they were broadcasting from here. I knew I had to try it.”
Curtis, a petroleum geologist, said that before he left home on Monday, he knew that he’d be eating at Tommy’s Country Ham House. And he said before he even checked into his hotel on Thursday, he had already had a meal at Tommy’s.
“I never served in the military but this is one of the most patriotic things I can do,” Curtis said. “I wouldn’t drive 1,000 miles to wave a sign for Romney, but I’d drive 10,000 to do it for Gingrich.”
“There’s no liberal yankee from New England who has ever done anything for anyone in the state of Texas,” Curtis said. “But I guess I could get behind Romney as the nominee if Gingrich doesn’t get it.”
When asked about Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Curtis said he was a fine man but that he was not ready for the national stage.
And Texas Congressman Ron Paul?
“Everybody has a crazy uncle, they come for Christmas, their fun, you laugh at them, but you never give them the car keys,” Curtis said. “That’s Ron Paul. He’s our crazy uncle.”