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Free Thanksgiving Meals from Richmond Restaurant

An Italian restaurant in Richmond, Salute E Vita Ristorante, will serve 600 free turkey dinners on Thanksgiving for the less fortunate, double the number served in its first year last year. The owner and manager were inspired by a hunger walk.

By Bay City News Service

A pair of Italian restaurants in the Bay Area are opening their doors to community members to offer a free turkey dinner on Thanksgiving.

In Richmond, Salute E Vita Ristorante at 1900 Esplanade Drive is holding its second annual Thanksgiving dinner event.

The inaugural event was such a success, manager Traci McWain said they will serve double what they did a year ago when they served 300.

The restaurant is having two separate dinners this Thanksgiving, at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., serving 300 people each meal, 600 total, McWain said.

If both dinners reach maximum capacity the restaurant will turn people away and take their information to be assured a spot in next year's dinner, she said.

The concept of the free dinner, serving families and individuals in Richmond and West Contra Costa County who would otherwise be without a gourmet meal, came after McWain and owner Menbere Aklilu did a local walk for hunger.

McWain said she and Aklilu did the GRIP Harmony Walk to End Hunger in 2011 and sat down to discuss what they could do to give back.

They decided on shutting down the restaurant for a few hours to provide a meal for the less fortunate.

Everyone will receive a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, to-go boxes with goodies and plenty more surprises, McWain said.

There will be several guest servers including Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, Olympic Gold medal winner Michael Johnson and many more.

McWain said the dinner will become an annual event at the restaurant.

On the Peninsula, Ristorante Don Giovanni at 235 Castro St. in Mountain View will hold its 23rd annual Thanksgiving dinner.

Owner John Akkaya said he came to America from Turkey in 1980 without any money. After volunteering for restaurants in Chicago, he vowed to give back when he got his own restaurant.

Akkaya opened up Cafe Figaro at 1318 Broadway in Burlingame in 1983 and began his annual thanks to the community by providing a free Thanksgiving dinner.

It was so successful that six years later he moved his business to the bigger Ristorante Don Giovanni location in 1989 where it has been ever since.

"It has been wonderful," Akkaya said. "First we served 300 to 400, then 400 to 500, and it just got too big for Cafe Figaro."

Don Giovanni can seat about 1,500 people and Akkaya said he expects the restaurant will serve more than 1,300 people Thursday.

"Everyone is welcome," he said. "I treat them like they are coming into my home."

Cooks have been prepping for the dinner, which runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., since Tuesday. Akkaya said a cook will be working overnight to make finishing touches.

Akkaya said the restaurant will serve a total of 125 turkeys.

Students from St. Francis High School will be volunteering as servers, Akkaya said.

"I'm very fortunate to do this," Akkaya said. "The community should get all the thanks."

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