Salute restaurant continues tradition with free meals for the homeless
on November 22, 2012
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Richmond Confidential welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Richmond Confidential assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.
Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.
Please send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Membe continues to share her blessings
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.
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
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!
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.
Menbe is an incredible woman. We eat at Salute at least once each week and have never been disappointed in the food, but darn, I thought she only called ME Bella. My husband and I would like to donate and participate next year, if she will let us.