A difficult economy and the demolition of much of a surrounding shopping center forced the suspension of the free Thanksgiving Day feast at Michael’s Family Restaurant in Rocky River, Ohio (19797 Detroit Road). But thanks to a much-improved economy and the opening of new retail adjacent to his store, Michael Petrakis is able to bring back his Thanksgiving Day tradition of offering free turkey dinners with all the trimmings to regular customers, the unemployed, senior citizens and the needy.
“A few years back a downturn in the economy hit my business hard, as many customers were forced to stop dining out,” said Petrakis, a Greek immigrant who—starting in 1982—began offering free meals on Thanksgiving Day as his unique way to give thanks for his good fortune in America. “Then half this shopping center was demolished, and most of the other remaining tenants moved out. My restaurant struggled—people just did not shop or do business back here anymore.”
After 26 years, Petrakis was forced to suspend his free Thanksgiving feast. That is, until this year. The shopping center has been rebuilt to feature a new Whole Foods Market, the economy has improved and his business is healthy again. And his new neighbor will play a big role in this year’s free feast by helping to supply the turkeys needed for the hundreds of free meals Michael will serve on Thanksgiving Day.
“I’m grateful to Whole Foods for helping me resume this Cleveland Thanksgiving Day tradition,” Michael said.
Thanksgiving diners who haven’t stopped by Michael’s for awhile will find a renovated and updated restaurant, including a new chef who has helped create an eclectic menu ranging from comfort food to unique culinary creations. Even the name of the restaurant has changed a bit, to Michael’s Restaurant and Bar.
But Petrakis emphasizes the new look will not change a thing for diners on Thanksgiving Day. “Everyone will receive ‘five-star service.’ Here, you don’t know if the breadwinner of the family at one table has just lost his job, or whether the couple at the next table has lost their home. We treat everyone as if they’re our best customer,” says Petrakis.