The 2012 GOP nominee stopped for some barbeque at The Little Dooey in Starkville less than a couple hours before changing into a suit for a speech at Mississippi State University.
An older man sitting in a booth shook Romney's hand and urged him to run for president. "We need you up there in the White House," he said.
"You're very kind," Romney replied, patting the man on the arm. "I wish I were there right now, I gotta tell ya."
As Romney positions himself for a possible third run for president, he's sketching out what appears to be a new platform that would be heavy on anti-poverty policies and reaching out to nontraditional voters.
The millionaire also has the challenge of overcoming a narrative leftover from the 2012 campaign that he was out of touch, and he's already signaled some ways he might reveal a more authentic self if he runs, the Washington Post reported
At the restaurant, Romney teased the reporters who stood close by as he munched on his pulled pork sandwich, saying there's "an unwritten rule" about not taking pictures of politicians eating. But he continued to eat anyway.
"Do you still consider yourself a politician, then?" one reporter asked, to which Romney replied: "You're taking my picture. What can I say?"
Another asked if this is "the new Romney," noting that he appeared not to care that he was eating before the cameras.
"I didn't know I had a choice," he shot back, drawing some laughs.
After Romney inched through the restaurant to meet students, sign books and take selfies, he sat down with the university's football coach, Dan Mullen, who led the bulldogs to the Orange Bowl this year.
Romney compared the leadership styles of running a business and coaching a football team. In politics, Romney argued, there's too much emphasis on what a person says, rather than what a person does.
"It'd be nice if people who run for office, that their leadership experience and what they've accomplished in life would be a bigger part of what people focus on, but it's not," he said. "It's mostly what you say."
What you do, Romney continued, to argue, "is a lot more important that what you say," noting how a football coach's reputation is almost entirely based on his record. "You could be the sweetest talking person in the world, but unless you got a record, you're in trouble," he said. .
While he doesn't seem to miss the close scrutinizing that comes with running for president, Romney spent the first half of his speech later that night dishing out some 2012 nostalgia laced with self-deprecating humor. He said he received some advice from someone he met on the campaign trail to stop shaving so he can "grow a little more stubble for a few days to look more sexy."
"As if I needed that," Romney said flatly, drawing a big laugh from the audience.
Still, he called it "the most remarkable" journey of his life, and mentioned ordinary people whom he calls "heroes" that he met on the campaign trail.
He specifically named two people in Iowa and New Hampshire who followed him to a hoard of campaign events, and he praised them for devoting their lives to people they believed would "make the country better."
Romney offered no specifics about where he stands in his decision making process, but felt confident that "the great days of America have not ended; they're ahead with the right kind of leadership."