Sara Brown wasn’t sure what to expect when she decided to host Friendsgiving on Thursday.
Ten people? 20? 200?
It was a leap.
“I don’t know. I just really felt called to give back to the community,” Brown said two days before Thanksgiving. “I was thinking, ‘Are we going to be open on Thanksgiving? I don’t want my staff to have to work.’”
Rutabagas Comfort Food, her plant-based restaurant, had only been open a few months. Business was good on North 12th Street. She loved her loyal customers. She loved her great staff.
She was grateful.
Then she thought about the spirit she was trying to create at Rutabagas. “A place to be warm and welcome and just to feel good in the world.”
The mother of two knew that holidays can be long and lonely for some.
So three weeks ago, she decided to go for it. She put out a call on Facebook and Instagram looking for volunteers and donations to help offset the cost of a dinner.
“All these people raised their hands and said, ‘We’re in.’”
Volunteers arrived to peel potatoes and carrots, chop onions and celery, cube bread and roast Brussels sprouts.
People stopped by with money. More signed up for shifts on Thanksgiving to serve and greet, wash dishes and clean up.
The menu was set: Cranberry lentil loaf and creamy garlic mashed potatoes, sweet potato crumb casserole and browned butter carrots. Stuffing, of course, and apple cobbler for dessert. Tea and coffee.
Guests could give a freewill offering. If diners had no money to give, that was fine, too.
At the end of the day, all profits would be given to the People’s City Mission.
Doors would open at noon. Brown’s two daughters would be at the restaurant to eat and help, too.
“We are extending our Thanksgiving to the community,” Brown said. “This will be our Thanksgiving.”
In the end, Brown and her volunteers and her staff made enough food to feed 200 people.
“My only prayer is that 200 bellies come to get filled up.”
* * *
The restaurant smelled like roasting potatoes and hot coffee and home.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Joyce Chao said as guests began to arrive. “Help yourself to water or coffee.”
Shortly before noon, the restaurant — former home of Spaghetti Works — opened its doors.
More than 100 diners carted pint jars with water to tables and filed through a buffet line to fill their plates.
Chao greeted them all. The Lincoln woman had heard about Brown’s plan, and as a vegan and a member of the Lincoln Zen Center, decided to help out.
“People are coming,” she said. “That’s great.”
They came with babies in strollers, with parents and friends and partners and spouses. A pair of men came in from the cold, placing their cardboard signs on empty seats.
Joni Thomas dined with her partner, Rick Strong, and two friends. Strong had been a taste-tester for Brown, months before the restaurant opened.
“Then this came up,” she said. “I wanted to go out with people who eat like I do.”
At the back of the restaurant, Jonathan Leach set up his keyboard.
The City Impact music director plays in several bands. He’d played here for brunch and heard about the Friendsgiving.
“I just told Sara, if you’d like to have music, let me know.”
The music was quiet and jazzy, a background of rhythm as the restaurant began to hum with conversation.
Ali Loker and her family took in the scene, sitting at one end of a long communal table.
Loker had learned about the Thanksgiving meal on social media and signed up to volunteer Wednesday.
Her parents, Rex and Juli Loker from Madison, Wisconsin, and her sister Emily Loker from Boulder, came to help Thursday, along with Ali’s partner, Wally Graeber.
Now it was time to eat.
“I like that it’s open to all whether you’re eating with family or friends or by yourself.” Ali said.
Her father agreed.
He appreciated the opportunity to be of service, he said.
“And the philosophy of coming together as friends with people you don’t know.”
Reach the writer at 402-473-7218 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @TheRealCLK
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