On Monday, Oct. 14, for the second year in a row, the Fire Hall Kitchen and Tap welcomed in the people of Cranbrook for free turkey dinner. Last year, owner Jesse Roberts speculates they fed around 300 people, and this year made food for 400 and nearly ran out.
The occasion was borne from a desire to give back the community that supported them through their “rocky” first summer after opening last year.
“Last year we were just really overwhelmed basically with just surviving the summer,” Roberts recalled. “We had no idea when we opened our doors if we were going to be bankrupt in six months or if we were going to be stressed out and losing our minds or what.”
Roberts said that the restaurant potentially disappointed some customers just by the nature of being a brand-new establishment and that they had to learn a lot of new things every day in order to stay afloat.
“There were people that had been with us from the very beginning,” he said. “Through the course of all of our trials and tribulations the town it seemed just really had our back.”
After surviving through those difficult first months, Roberts and the rest of the owners and their team were filled with gratitude to the community.
“We had so much to learn and the town of Cranbrook basically gave us the opportunity to learn that and to carve out our ideal life really. And so when Thanksgiving rolls around it’s just like well what are you thankful for? And for us it was pretty easy to include Cranbrook in that list of things.”
He explained that the purpose Turkey Day isn’t charity — the point of the day is community.
“We thought this is one thing we can do to contribute and be a part of things and the people that walk into the Fire Hall on Thanksgiving Day are just the coolest people. Some of them haven’t had a meal in a while and others roll up in their Lexus but it’s just the sweetest day.”
The day was made possible by a team of eight cooks and around 20 people in the front of house, all working without pay. Most were employees of the Fire Hall, who Roberts said essentially mandated the owners to hold a second Turkey Day this year. Roberts said it was very important to him that the volunteers enjoy themselves as much as their guests.
The only thing that was for sale was alcoholic beverages, which customers were able to buy and tip their servers on top of. At the end of the day, all the servers pooled their tips together and donated them to charitable causes the Fire Hall supports.
Roberts says that he and his team have endeavoured to hire servers, bartenders and managers based more on being the right kind of community-minded people they seek to surround themselves with, rather than looking for people with the right skill set.
“Skills you can acquire but we tend to go for a different type of person,” he said. “Not that it’s required for people to volunteer, it isn’t at all, but the type of people that we tend to hire there does tend to be that sort of team spirit or being community oriented or just recognizing that whether it’s the Fire Hall that you’re a part of or the community, you are a part of something. And everybody has a role to play. And somehow we get away with having a really good time doing it.”
He also highlighted the efforts of his kitchen team, who he said were there the earliest preparing for the day and stayed the latest cleaning and closing down, after delivering a turkey dinner that Roberts described as “crazy good … better than any turkey dinner I’ve ever had.”
When asked if he will do it again, Roberts replied,
“I don’t see how we really have a choice.”