Giving back to your community is the right thing to do.
That’s the simple, yet profound, message that Bill Michailidis wants to communicate to his Delaware County neighbors.
The Hamburger Inn Diner is once again opening its heart, kitchen and counters to area residents for Thanksgiving. The free dinner, which has become an annual event, will be served Nov. 25 from 3 to 9 p.m. at the North Sandusky Street diner.
Michailidis said the idea for the Thanksgiving dinner was conceived out of compassion for his employees at a restaurant he owned during the early 1980s at the convention center in Columbus.
“We had all these students that had no way to go home for Thanksgiving, so my wife and I almost felt guilty about eating because these people had nowhere to go,” he said. “We couldn’t invite everybody to our home, so we decided we were going to do a pre-Thanksgiving meal. So we closed the restaurant, bought one turkey and we sat down with our employees and had that meal.”
That one meal morphed into an annual gathering at each restaurant Michailidis has owned.
“I carried that same tradition through all of my restaurants,” he said. “At one point, all of our 12 restaurants were producing in their communities a Thanksgiving meal. As such, when I purchased the Hamburger Inn, the very first year, I introduced to the community, the Thanksgiving meal.”
Michailidis bought the downtown Delaware icon in 2010. The restaurant first opened its counter and stools to the public in 1932. Michailidis said the free Thanksgiving meal is his and his family’s way of repaying the loyalty of the customers who frequent the Hamburger Inn.
“It means so much to me,” he said. “We all have so much to be thankful for in our community — our families, our good health, the prosperity. All these people here in the community that for 365 days they support us, one day we can stop and do something for the community that supports us all year. It’s our way of saying ‘thank you’ to the community. It’s turned out to be a wonderful event because it touches the heart strings of what we do here.”
Earlier this year, Michailidis sold the restaurant to Clean Plate Restaurants Inc., which is now serving as the managing partner for the Hamburger Inn Diner. He remains a partner in the business. According to its website, the company has been acquiring and managing independent and small chain restaurants since 2013.
“It’s been a wonderful transition. (Clean Plate is) a wonderful partner,” Michailidis said. “They bring the professional restaurant company to bear. They bring resources to bear. The Hamburger Inn has secured its lifeline forever. By entering into this partnership, we’ve secured this restaurant and the community will always have a place to call home.”
Robert Donahue is Clean Plate’s local manager for the Hamburger Inn Diner. He said he plans to maintain the level of quality and service the restaurant has provided for its patrons, and also wants to continue the Thanksgiving dinner tradition.
“This is the Hamburger Inn, all in a nutshell,” Donahue said. “What Bill has built and what the Hamburger Inn has been about since 1932, is taking care of the community. I’m super excited to be here. We’re going to take care of this and knock it out of the park.”
Donahue also manages the Olive Tree Mediterranean Cafe in Hilliard for Clean Plate. He said volunteers will be coming from that store to help with the Thanksgiving meal at the Hamburger Inn Diner.
Michailidis said the menu will include 53 (or more) fresh roasted turkeys, homemade gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean almondine, cinnamon roll bread pudding, sweet potato pie and brown sugar crumble cobbler. Meals will be available for carryout.
An estimated 700 people filed through the doors of the Hamburger Inn Diner for the 2014 Thanksgiving meal. Michailidis believes that number could swell to approximately 750 this year. Each child who attends the dinner on Nov. 25 will receive a small gift, just to say “thank you,” Michailidis said.
Twelve volunteers assisted with serving the meals in 2014. Michailidis said one group of volunteers — the Charles Dozer family — flew in from Florida last year and will be back again this year. The Dozers are former Delaware County residents.
The Hamburger Inn Diner will be closed to the public from 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 25 to allow the staff to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. The owners and managers will serve the meal to the employees and their families.
During the holiday season, the Hamburger Inn Diner will collect clothing donations that will be given to People In Need Inc. of Delaware County. Donahue said patrons can drop donations in a box at the front of restaurant.
Andrew Carter can be reached at 740-413-0902 and on Twitter @AndrewCarterDG.