ROWLEY — When the first Spud’s Restaurant & Pub arrived at their inaugural Thanksgiving in 1986, owner Bruce Spaulding and his employees opened their doors for business, only to find no one there.
“No one was coming out to eat,” Spaulding said. “Then the following year, we said, ‘This is kind of silly, we have the funds to do it, we have the people to do it, let’s get this on its feet.’”
What Spaulding and company started in 1987 has become a Thanksgiving tradition for most of them and their families for the past 26 years, and they are doing it all over again today. While their Rowley location will be closed, the Saugus location will be serving over 600 meals to whoever needs it on the North Shore, including the Rowley Council on Aging and Greater Lynn Senior Services, all for free.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on the way you look at it, it has grown every year,” Spaulding said. “So we’re really happy to fill the void that one day of the year. All of the labor comes from volunteers on our staff and from our families. We’ve got some people who have done it at least 25 of those 26 years, young and old and their children.”
Business adviser Gregg Quimby has been with Spaulding all along and can’t imagine a Thanksgiving without it.
“This is something we couldn’t stop doing if we wanted to,” said Quimby.
The work starts on Monday and goes all the way until Thanksgiving as the staffs in Rowley and Saugus and their friends and family voluntarily make use of either the restaurants’ kitchens or their own at home to cook the required 50 turkeys, 350 pounds of potatoes and 400 pounds of squash — and that’s just for starters.
“We encourage them to do it, but we don’t require them to,” Spaulding said of his employees. “It’s really a lot of the same faces who have been doing it for the past 10, 15 years. We don’t have a lack of volunteers. We always have plenty of hands around to do it.”
The Saugus Lincoln Avenue location opens Thanksgiving morning to begin serving 260 full meals to the Greater Lynn Senior Services. Also, 40 other meals go to the Rowley Council on Aging and more are sent to the local fire and police stations in Saugus. One hundred meals are made to go and another 150 meals are served in the restaurant itself.
“They can come down and pick it up to go or they can be waited on, on site,” Quimby said of the Thanksgiving guests. “When they are done, they can go to the bar area, which is stocked with every kind of dessert that they can imagine. They can pick whatever they want.”
As Thanksgiving is a family event, so it is for the Spud’s family. Spaulding’s three teenage boys and 8-year-old daughter are also involved.
“They look forward to it, they like doing some of it,” said Spaulding. “They like to pick their task, I guess I would say. They are more comfortable serving the people in the dining room or making up bags to go than washing the dishes at the end of the day. We’re very lucky, actually. The whole thing wraps up about 1:30 and we are home by 2 o’clock for a regular Thanksgiving dinner and we cook our own turkey at home.”
Like Spaulding, Quimby’s kids have grown up with the tradition.
“It’s all three of them and all their neighborhood friends who come with me, every single (Thanksgiving) morning,” Quimby said of his sons. “Let’s face it, it’s a little bit more fun and it’s not as much work per person as a normal day. Everyone is giving of their own time.”