When Michelle King walked out of church at 8:30 p.m. Sunday evening, she made up her mind: RaeZack’s was going to serve a free Thanksgiving dinner.
But it wasn’t a decision that was made on a whim. King, who owns the country-cooking restaurant with her husband, Daniel, had wanted to serve a free turkey dinner on Thanksgiving for years; she had just always been hesitant to take the plunge.
“It’s actually something I’ve wanted to do since we opened,” she said. “I’ve just always been scared to death to do it. But I just want to feed people for free, and when we got out of church on Sunday I just said, ‘I want to do it; I’m gonna do it.’”
From 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Thursday, RaeZack’s will serve turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, slaw, rolls and banana pudding. There is no cost, and there are no strings attached.
A flyer announcing the event, shared on social media by the Kings on Monday, states: “To all who have nowhere to go, to all who have to eat alone, to all who can’t afford, or to all who just want to spend Thanksgiving dinner with RaeZack’s family.”
“At first we were going to put something on there about people who can afford it,” Daniel King said. “But we have a lot of widowers who come and eat with us on a regular basis. We want them to be welcome, too. We figure that if you’re coming down here to eat that day, you more than likely truly need a place to be. If we can show somebody some love that day, that’s what we’re here for.”
For Michelle, it’s all about helping people and sharing the spirit of thanksgiving.
“When we first opened and I was working the front, I would give more food away than we were selling,” she said. “Of course my husband would jump on to me. But then I’d turn around and he’d be giving food away. We even thought about going to Knoxville and giving out free food to the homeless, but we just never went through with our plans.
“This time, I just said, ‘I’m gonna do it,’” she added. “And when I told Daniel, he said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
The Kings opened their Helenwood restaurant several years ago after getting their start operating a food truck at Brimstone events as a sideline. Within months after they opened in the small store space that had previously housed two other restaurants, they had out-grown their space. They leased the vacant space next door and expanded, more than doubling their dining area. The influences of Michelle’s father — the late Denny Lowe, who served two terms as Scott County executive in the 1990s — can be found throughout the store, from the “Pop’s Pie” on the menu (a warm honey bun served a la mode) to his whimsical prayer for God’s blessing on the food that is framed on the wall.
As the restaurant has grown, the Kings haven’t shied away from closing on holidays and special events — “We even close for birthdays,” Daniel joked. They’re even closed on Sunday, which is traditionally the biggest sales day of the week for casual dining restaurants. Family time is more important, they say. Yet, they’re going to spend Thanksgiving Day at the store, welcoming in the community. Michelle said it worked out perfectly.
“We’re having our family dinner at five o’clock this year, and we don’t ever have our dinner that late,” she said. “It just worked out. I think it was God’s plan.”
The Kings said they aren’t doing Thanksgiving as a publicity stunt. They don’t want the attention; they just want to serve the community. In fact, both said, they aren’t worried about people taking advantage of the free meal … that’s what it’s being offered for.
“If people bring their whole families, that is fine, too,” Michelle said. “I want people to show up. That’s my biggest fear — that we do this and nobody shows up. But, either way, we’re going to serve Thanksgiving dinner, and we’re going to do it with a smile and be thankful.
As word of RaeZack’s plans spread through the community on Monday, Daniel said he was inundated with messages from well-wishers.
“People have been messaging me just wanting to come and help,” he said. “They’re saying their dinner isn’t until Friday so they’d like to volunteer.”
He credits that mentality to the underlying spirit of giving that is ever present in Scott County.
“This is a community that wants to pull together and help people a lot,” he said. “And we’re able to give them a means to do that.”
As for how many people will show up, the Kings say they have no idea. But they intend to be prepared for a lot.
“I hope a thousand people show up,” Michelle said.