Salute restaurant continues tradition with free meals for the homeless

Salute's owner Menbere Aklilu greeted customers throughout the day during her Thanksgiving dinner.

"They've never been treated this way," she said of those she's serving on Thanksgiving. "So I treated them with dignity." (Photo by: Rachel de Leon)

As Menbere Aklilu looked across the office in her restaurant, she sighed deeply and said she promised herself she wouldn’t cry this time. This time, it was her second year hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at her restaurant, Salute.  Last year, she provided 300 foods to the homeless and this year, she was offering the same dinner twice in the day, doubling the meals to 600.

But the promise did no good. Her eyes quickly filled with tears and she began speaking about someone who had especially touched her this year.  It was someone who wasn’t homeless or in financial need.  It was a man who said he didn’t want to be lonely this Thanksgiving.  He lost his partner of 42 years in the spring of 2011. He spent last Thanksgiving alone at home.

“What can I say?” Donald Scales said with a slight chuckle.  “I watched TV.”

Scales had been to Aklilu’s restaurant before, unlike most of the other customers that day.  Scales said he and his partner, Steve, used to eat Sunday brunch together often.  Since Steve passed away, Scales said he started eating brunch at Salute as a way of remembering him.

“I’m just so grateful to have a place to go,” Scales said of joining Aklilu and her customers Thanksgiving Day. But he said he felt uncomfortable at first because he’s not homeless and could pay for his meal. When he arrived, he said Aklilu held his hand tightly and he no longer felt out of place.

Customer Don Scales joins customers for Thanksgiving.

Don Scales said he started coming to Salute’s Sunday brunch as a way of remembering his partner, who passed away spring of 2011. (Photo by: Rachel de Leon)


It was noon, just between the first and second meal. Stopping at tables and shuffling around the restaurant, Aklilu was constantly moving, greeting customers, holding their hands, and smiling the entire time.

“I am who I am because of this community,” Aklilu said. At the front of the restaurant, customers could pick up a brochure that explained Aklilu’s history.  She moved to Oakland in 1995 from Rome, where she had lived in a shelter for three months before giving birth to her son.  Aklilu’s financial struggles followed her to Richmond, but through a generous donation, she bought Salute and has been the owner for 10 years.

This Thanksgiving dinner, Aklilu said she had about 15 waiters serving customers.

The dinner was a project with many helpers. Aklilu paid for a bus to pick up customers, and individuals took their own cars to pick up others.  Galaxy Desserts donated desserts for the second year and Richmond Wholesale donated 30 turkeys to the restaurant.  Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Police Chief Chris Magnus were helping to serve food as well.

Chefs at Salute prepare food in the kitchen

Aklilu said Richmond Wholesale donated 30 turkeys for the dinners on Thanksgiving. (Photo by: Rachel de Leon)

Waiters hand out desserts in the kitchen.

Galaxy Desserts catered dessert for a second time for Salute’s dinner. (Photo by: Rachel de Leon)

Along with free dinner, customers were given favors as they left. Aklilu had hundreds of bags in reserve upstairs—they varied for women, men, and children.

With a clear view of San Francisco in 65-degree weather, customers said they were thankful for the food and the view.

“The food is so delicious,” Frances Woods said, as she sat next to her husband of 40 years, a veteran who suffered a stroke two years ago.  “I’m thankful I’m here alive to experience it,” she said.
Customer Jerome Woods sits at a booth at Salute restaurant.

Veteran Jerome Woods said this his first time coming to Salute restaurant. His wife, Frances, said they’ll be coming back for her birthday next year. (Photo by: Rachel de Leon)

As 2 p.m. approached and the restaurant began to empty out, a group of people sang “Oh, Happy Day” in a separate room.

“I’m lucky all the way around,” Scales said, leaning across the table to talk over the singing. “Menbe’s my Thanksgiving angel.”


  1. Membe continues to share her blessings

  2. I just want to add a few parole.Membi has always been a special person for his big heart and for his goodness, and today was rewarded for all the good he has done …….. She is a great manager …… Sorry for my english.

  3. Debebe

    Thanks for writing on this act of HUMANITY
    If there is any one to testify about the suffering and the hard times of The Great Menbere, here I am
    I have seen Menbyy through all her travels and troubles from the beggining till now
    This generous lady never forgets the past. By not doing so she also reminds herself that now trouble days r gone for her there are others who still crave for a piece of bread and goes out to attach her hand that God have filled with giving by giving her.
    She doesn’t thank the Lord by kneeling to pry but she thanks him by sharing what he have given her. Many might think she gives only on thanksgiving but I say as I have witnessed she does it all the time
    Menbere Akllilu is one person I know as penniless and now have enough to share with all the needy and every day.
    She.cries to dry others tears, she prays to be able to share what she have with those who need help.
    Menbye may you live long so that U stretch the generous hands God have blessed to support
    Proud to have known and witnessed the support U give there and back at home!
    GOD Bless You dear sister

  4. I think this is a beautiful Angel and my hometown should be grateful for what she’s doing. I have tears of joy and I will be coming back home soon to visit Salute! God bless all!

  5. M. Gayle Dickson

    Oh my God. A gem in Richmond. I am grateful for the article as well as the comments. So Enlightening. Richmond Confidential you are a good resource.

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