With Viral Photo, N.H. Diner and a Favorite Customer Get Moment in the Spotlight | New Hampshire Public Radio

With Viral Photo, N.H. Diner and a Favorite Customer Get Moment in the Spotlight

Feb 17, 2016

Linda Philibert, left, and family members like Jaime Gilmartin, right, have been surprised but delighted after Linda became an accidental Internet celebrity during a stop at the restaurant the day before the presidential primary.
Credit Casey McDermott, NHPR

A little over a week ago, Linda Philibert was just another regular at Blake’s Restaurant on Manchester’s West Side.

But there was little that was regular about her recent stop there last Monday morning.

Philibert arrived early that day — as she does often to visit her nephew’s wife, Jaime Gilmartin, who works as a waitress. She sat down at the counter to eat her usual breakfast: three eggs and a coffee.

  And that’s all Philibert was trying to do — to go about her usual routine — when she happened to end up right in the middle of the media swarm surrounding then-presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, who stopped by the restaurant in an effort to make one final pitch to voters before last week’s presidential primary.

A New Hampshire Union Leader staffer, Pat Grossmith, captured the scene in a photo. The Union Leader soon tweeted it from the newspaper's main account. And within hours, Philibert — who wasn’t initially identified in the caption — became something of an Internet sensation.

At one level, some people saw in her a reflection of their own disinterest or disillusion toward the seemingly unending media frenzy of the presidential race. At another level, the image seemed to perfectly capture the spectacle of retail politics in the New Hampshire primary: the whirlwind of a presidential hopeful and the crowd of journalists clustered close behind, juxtaposed with diners like Philibert just going about their daily routines.

“This woman was only interested in her breakfast, not the crowd or media surrounding Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina as she campaigned at Blake’s in Manchester Monday morning in the final hours leading up to today’s presidential primary,” read the caption in the next day’s Union Leader.

The Washington Post, among others, picked up on the photo. A headline on Slate declared: “Breakfast-Eating American Hero Ignores Presidential Candidate, Continues Eating Breakfast.” 

By Wednesday, Philibert was the star of her own segment on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: "A photo of a woman who had zero interest in Carly Fiorina's campaign diner stop lit up the internet ahead of the New Hampshire primary," the description read.

Some people even turned the Union Leader’s original image into a meme, placing Philibert in the middle of other scenes: an Edward Hopper painting, the Last Supper, a police chase.

While some were quick to assume this unnamed “New Hampshire Diner Woman” was unimpressed with the presidential hopeful a few feet away, Philibert says that’s not the case. She was just eating breakfast, like always.

Philibert didn’t vote in last week’s primary, but she hopes the country elects “a nice president.” When she’s not at the diner, she enjoys spending time with her family — dozens of nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews — going to Monarchs hockey games and spending time with her boyfriend, with whom she lives in Manchester.

Nonetheless, Philibert's been thrilled with this moment in the spotlight. She made sure to pick up a copy of the Union Leader the day the photo was published, and she grinned after seeing her own late-night cameo on Colbert’s show.

Now, people are stopping her in Market Basket — hugging her, offering congratulations and telling her they saw her photo all over Facebook.

“I’m glad I had my picture taken,” Philibert said. “I love it.”

The others who’ve grown to know her as a friendly Blake’s patron have loved watching all of the attention showered her way, too.

“I think it’s fabulous. She obviously feels very comfortable here. She has a permanent seat at that counter,” said Blake’s co-owner Ann Mirageas. “You know, she just was enjoying her breakfast and everything that was going on around her. It’s all good. She deserves this. And I’m glad she took it in such great spirits.”

To commemorate the occasion, Mirageas says she’s planning to celebrate Philibert one step further — naming a strawberry sundae, one of Philibert's favorite non-breakfast items at Blake’s, after her.

Hosting the presidential hopefuls can be somewhat chaotic for the Manchester restaurant, but it’s a responsibility Mirageas welcomes with open arms. A friend, Mirageas recalled, summed it up best by saying she should be proud that she’s opening her “house” up to the candidates, the media and others who want to experience the election firsthand.

“Blake’s is our house, it’s our home,” she said. “So we gave a comfortable environment for, I believe, seven or eight of the candidates who came through, and in our own way participated in this election.”