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Richmond restaurant to host more than 1,000 people for homeless, veteran awareness this Thanksgiving

on November 26, 2014

Menbere Aklilu could barely hold back tears. Even amid the tumult of planning for this year’s annual Thanksgiving Day Celebration for veterans and the homeless at her Marina Bay restaurant, Salute e Vita, she needed a moment to reflect on how she got to where she is today.

That’s because Menbere—or Menbe, as she is affectionately known—was once homeless herself.

“When you’re in the homeless shelter, you have no idea how much it makes you happy to be given dignity,” she said.

Salute’s 4th annual Thanksgiving Day Celebration has grown into an event expected to host more than 1,000 veterans and other homeless men, women and children from around the Bay Area. Shelters from Concord, Berkeley, Vallejo and Richmond will converge on the elegant restaurant for a white-linen feast.

And the charity won’t end there. Tents will be set up outside of the restaurant to provide flu shots, and the Coast Guard has provided boats to take guests on tours of the bay. Several local officials are expected, and even some members of the San Francisco 49ers are planning to join in on the meal.

Aklilu will be bringing in an unprecedented amount of food for the event, including 50 turkeys, all of which were donated by Richmond Wholesale. Galaxy Desserts, also located near the Marina, will provide desserts.

Kyle Dunson, who works with Supportive Services for Veteran Families in conjunction with the Berkeley Food and Housing/Roads Home program, stressed the poignancy of Thanksgiving for veterans.

“The (veterans) I spoke to were really thrilled about what’s going on,” he said.“Some of these veterans don’t have any family and to do something like this is really commemorative of recognizing their service and sacrifice.”

Organizers say the event brings attention to an ongoing crisis. About 50,000 veterans are homeless in the U.S. on any given night, according to Department of Housing and Urban Development statistics. About 4,000 people in Contra Costa County are homeless.

Aklilu said she started aiming to serve veterans by chance. A couple of years ago, she learned that one of her guests was both homeless and a war veteran.

“He gives himself to this country for freedom but he’s homeless?” she said. “I thought, ‘You know what? I have to give more.’”

As an Ethiopian immigrant, Aklilu spent many years struggling to make ends meet in both Italy and The United States.

After moving up the ranks in the restaurant industry, she eventually founded Salute e Vita. Today, it’s one of the most successful restaurants in Richmond.

Aklilu said she is undaunted by the amount of mouths to feed.

“The first year when I saw the reaction of the people, it prompted me to do more. 99 percent said they had never been in the restaurant,” she said. “Some of them were praying and crying.”

Aklilu said the event is about more than the food, but about providing confidence for the downtrodden.

One difference is the way she serves them.

”We don’t do buffet,” she said. “We serve them with knives, forks, silverware and glasses because we treat them with dignity and respect. We treat them with dignity and love.”

Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus said he looks forward to attending.

“(Aklilu) is really an amazing woman and it’s really a pleasure to join her and find another way to give back,” he said. “It’s really a pleasure being a part of it every year.”

Non-perishable donations will be accepted at the event. The volunteers serve three separate meals from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.


  1. Disgusted on November 26, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    Menbere is an opportunist. She collects money from people to finance this annual event, when she should in fact be encouraging community members to support the existing homeless agencies in the community. Instead she is collecting money and publicity for her own personal gain. If she really cared about the Richmond Community, she would support the community-based organizations with some of the more than $40,000 she has raised from this event, rather than putting it in her own pocket

    • Chris Magnus on November 26, 2014 at 3:52 pm

      What an awful and entirely baseless claim to make. Absolutely nothing supports such outrageous allegations. Menbere is one of the most generous and caring members of the community. It stands to reason “Disgusted” would be anonymous in writing the above comment.

      • Tania Swartz on November 26, 2014 at 6:35 pm

        I agree with Chief Magnus.. Disgusted with Disgusted comments. Your claims are baseless! May God keep blessing you Menbere, so may continue blessing others!

      • Elba Huamani on November 27, 2014 at 8:56 am

        Good job…!!!!!!!

    • Valerie Sloven on November 26, 2014 at 9:03 pm

      @Disgusted. How easy and cowardly it is to spew nasty accusations under the cloak of anonymity. It speaks volumes about your character.

      I wish the editorial staff of Richmond Confidential would look at the practice of posting baseless accusations by annonymous people. It is wrong.

    • menbere aklilu on November 28, 2014 at 11:13 am

      @disgusted Happy Thanksgiving. Hope you are doing well. Unfortunately, you are misinformed. We raised more than $60,000 not $40,000 and it went directly into GRIP, a nonprofit organization in Richmond which helps combat homelessness. Publicity is always good. It raises awareness. Community members were given an opportunity to not only support other homeless organizations but to get into the spirit of being involved. I encourage other restaurants to do the same – to serve the homeless and veterans with the respect and dignity they deserve. Salute invites you to come in for a glass of wine to celebrate. Of course, the wine is on the house. Love, Menbe.

  2. Terrance Cheung on November 27, 2014 at 7:12 am

    I’m so proud of Menbere and her entire restaurant staff for elevating this issue. As a community, we all need to do our part to help our brothers and sisters who are down on their luck. In addition to the the Thanksgiving meal, Menbere also works to support domestic violence resources in our community.

    So sad “Disgusted” feel a need to be negative during a time when we should all be thankful and supportive.

  3. Elba Huamani on November 27, 2014 at 9:00 am

    I like this job ,sobre todo por los duenis del restaurante Dios los bendiga,de ahora en adelante voy a comer en aquel bello “Restaurante”..!!!!!

  4. Rob Van de Loo on November 27, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Thank you Menbere for putting together this wonderful experience for our fellow community members. You, and all those individuals and organizations that have helped, make Richmond an increasingly great town to live and work in.

  5. Theresa on November 27, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Menbe is an example of the best of Richmond!. Time for more like her and her loving example of caring for others. Thank you for all you do even as you recall your own vulnerability. You are amazing!


  6. Mindful Transitions on November 29, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    After working with a client in Richmond I came to this beautiful restaurant.I was impressed then, even more impressed now with the gesture of help and kindness extended to homeless on Thanksgiving !

  7. Reggie on November 30, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Thank you so much for the loving work that’s being done.

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