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Pilot Rock restaurant serves up free Thanksgiving meals

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on November 23, 2017 6:11PM

Richard Carnes, co-owner of Archie’s Restaurant in Pilot Rock, transfers steaming turkey to the buffet table. The meal was free, but diners could donate to the Pilot Rock Food Pantry.

Staff photo by Kathy Aney

Richard Carnes, co-owner of Archie’s Restaurant in Pilot Rock, transfers steaming turkey to the buffet table. The meal was free, but diners could donate to the Pilot Rock Food Pantry.

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Elizabeth Tester, 4, holds a plate loaded with Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday afternoon at Archie’s Restaurant in Pilot Rock. The eatery doesn’t charge for the meal, but instead collects donations for the Pilot Rock Food Pantry.

Staff photo by Kathy Aney

Elizabeth Tester, 4, holds a plate loaded with Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday afternoon at Archie’s Restaurant in Pilot Rock. The eatery doesn’t charge for the meal, but instead collects donations for the Pilot Rock Food Pantry.

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Pilot Rock is normally considered a sleepy town, but the Thanksgiving Day scene in the downtown area was practically catatonic.

What wasn’t already closed shuttered early — Coffee Station No. 1 was closed by 9 a.m., the Family Foods grocery store was done by the early afternoon and anyone who wanted to pump gas at the Shell gas station would have to do so themselves.

Instead of shortened operating hours however, Archie’s Restaurant at 194 Main Street offered a special service: a free Thanksgiving meal. For three hours Thursday, co-owners Daniel Contway and Richard Carnes offered turkey, mashed potatoes and a full Thanksgiving spread to anyone who stopped by.

Despite not opening until noon, the Archie’s staff had been working since 6 a.m. to get the meal ready. As the diners started to trickle in, Contway greets most of them by their first name.

Now in its seventh year, Contway said the Archie’s Thanksgiving meal started as a way to offer some sort of service to travelers who couldn’t find anything else open on Thanksgiving.

The meal evolved further when Archie’s partnered with the Pilot Rock Food Pantry in its second year. Archie’s would still serve a Thanksgiving meal for free, but patrons would be asked to pay it forward and donate to the food pantry.

Although donating was completely voluntary, the glass vase where donations were accepted already had a hefty amount. Contway said Archie’s had already collected $860 by the time the restaurant opened on Thursday, which meant it was on track to surpass last year’s $1,200 total.

The Archie’s Thanksgiving event usually attracts around 100 people, Contway said, and many of them who came expressed similar sentiments: gratitude for the deliciousness of the meal, relief that they didn’t have to make the meal themselves and an appreciation for the positive contribution to the community the restaurant makes through the donation drive.

Terry and Sandy Mayberry of Pendleton have been longtime Archie’s Thanksgiving attendees, but they brought in children, grandchildren and other relatives this year. Some came as far away as Boise and North Carolina to join them for Turkey Day.

The Mayberry’s Archie’s evangelism spread to the next table over. Sheila Campbell of Pendleton is friends with the Mayberrys, and when her plans fell through, she invited a few generations of family on her first trek to Archie’s Thanksgiving feast.

While there were plenty of out-of-towners celebrating their Thanksgiving at Archie’s, Pilot Rockers also made their presence felt. Patsy Boader said she and her group of local friends meet for a cup of coffee every day at Archie’s. Stopping in for a quick bite of Turkey is continuing that routine in a different way.

“I actually live in Pendleton now, but I guess old traditions die hard,” said Virginia Jones, who was seated next to Boader.

Some guests needed Archie’s in a pinch. Elsie Tester and her family only live a couple blocks away from Archie’s and are regulars at the establishment. But their oven broke last week, and Archie’s turned into a much-needed backup option.

Archie’s Thanksgiving patrons left with full stomachs, but they also made sure that other people in the community would eventually get some food as well. Nearly everyone interviewed said they intended to donate to the Pilot Rock Food Pantry.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.



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