NEWPORT, Minn. - The nerves started at 5 p.m.
Line cook Chris Effinger was told U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was coming to the North Pole Restaurant in Newport, just south of St. Paul.
After a half hour, Effinger was telling bussers, “he’s here,” as U.S. Secret Service officials and Minnesota state troopers filled the family-owned restaurant Thursday, May 9.
“The whole experience was a real shock to me,” Effinger said, who has worked at the restaurant for about 15 years. “I’ve never been in the presence of someone that important.”
Pence mingled with diners, talked with workers and others before leaving with three malts — one chocolate and two vanillas. The stop at the North Pole bookended his trip to Minnesota to tout the prospects of the United States-Canada-Mexico trade deal at a farm near Glyndon and Gerdau Ameristeel in St. Paul.
The restaurant’s co-owner Brian North had read an article in the Pioneer Press alerting him that Pence would be in the area on Thursday. If he hadn’t, he would have thought the Secret Service workers who told him that Pence would be arriving were pulling his leg, he said.
“I told my staff and their jaws hit the floor,” North said.
North and his sister Tricia visited with Pence briefly and were introduced to his sister who was eating at the restaurant.
The North family has owned the restaurant-drug store business since 1952. Gov. Tim Walz has visited and several professional athletes have stopped in, but never someone of Pence’s stature, he said.
“Had I known what was going on, I would’ve doubled my staff,” North said. “We did get some extra people … they wanted to be part of the spectacle.”
Across the street from the restaurant, Karyn Wincentsen rents a chair from Fay’s Newport Salon. She was working with a client when they noticed a gaggle of activity at the North Pole Restaurant.
“I took a picture and put it on Facebook and said, ‘Is Trump in town?’ joking,” Wincentsen said.
Soon, a friend commented on her post and said it wasn’t President Donald Trump, but Pence.
She says she isn’t political, though her father is a staunch Trump supporter, but she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try and get close to the vice president.
When she walked in, Pence was walking towards the door towards her and Wincentsen asked him for a selfie.
“When I was taking the picture I said, ‘Aren’t you handsome,’ and he said, ‘Aren’t you sweet,’” she said. “I couldn’t believe it … For him to come to Newport, it is an amazing thing.”
Pence left the restaurant at 6 p.m., and even though Effinger didn’t personally get a chance to greet him, his nerves didn’t stop for him or the bussers even after Pence left.
“We were all like, ‘Just try and be as calm as you can,’ but we all know that we’re going to be nervous,” Effinger said.
At one point, a busser held out his hands to him and they were visibly shaking. At 7:20 p.m., 20 minutes after the restaurant closes, the last customer left for the night, he said.
Soon after, North left and so did the waitress and host.
Effinger and the two bussers were finally on their own. The three whooped and hollered and shouted to let the nerves out.