Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, relish and casseroles. All of these dishes and more will be available downtown Sheridan at what has become a traditional event in Sheridan.
Every year since 1998, the Sheridan Palace restaurant on Main Street has provided a free Thanksgiving dinner to anyone and everyone to wants to attend. However, the 16-year tradition is likely coming to an end, with tomorrow being the final planned Thanksgiving dinner, as the business is up for sale.
Current owners, Jane and Steve Cain, purchased the restaurant in 1997 and began the Thanksgiving dinner the next year.
“We’re not from here and we had no family here so it was just him and me so we decided to do a turkey and invite people we knew who didn’t have a family and nowhere to go, to come here,” said Jane Cain. “The first year we did it we had a few people, maybe 10 people.”
“Before we knew it more and more people are telling their friends,” she continued. “Last year we had about 350 people. Some people thought it was just for poor people who didn’t have money but that wasn’t why. It was for anybody who didn’t have family or anywhere to go.”
With hundreds of people to feed, the Cain’s begin their Thanksgiving preparations weeks before the event, cooking or baking dishes and freezing them.
As the holiday arrives, the couple works in shifts, with Jane putting in eight turkeys to begin cooking at 2 p.m. when she leaves the restaurant after the lunch shift, and Steve comes in at 8 p.m. to remove them and get eight more ready to put in the oven first thing Thanksgiving morning.
The dinner is served buffet-style, with diners coming through to fill their plates, eat, visit a bit and then head out, opening their table for the next round of diners.
Although the dinner is free, Cain said many people donate a little cash or even bring a dish from home to put on the buffet. Cain said she does not require her restaurant staff to work that day and relies on the help of a few volunteers who offer to take out the trash, clean tables or replace empty dishes on the buffet.
Cain said several people or groups help make the dinner possible. The Presbyterian Church donates 20 turkeys, Coca-Cola donates beverages and her food provider, Food Service of America, also donates food products for the meal.
Of course, providing the free Thanksgiving meal in Sheridan for more than a decade and a half, means that the Cain’s have not been able to have their own family Thanksgiving in many years. However, Cain said in some ways, her customers have become family and holding the free dinner each year has brought her and her husband satisfaction in knowing they provided a needed service on the holiday.
“I think the reason we really started doing it is because when I am on the floor and I am talking to people and they are older people, they have no family, they have nobody,” said Cain. “I will ask them what they are doing for Thanksgiving and they say ‘well, I don’t know’ and I say ‘you should come here.’”
“It’s a good feeling to know you have done something,” she continued. “I get a lot of individuals saying thank you. They really appreciate it. A lot of them wouldn’t have a meal to eat that day if they didn’t come here. They are very thankful and they get to see people they don’t usually get to see.”
The meal begins tomorrow at 11 a.m., though some diners arrive early to drink coffee and visit with friends. Food will be served until approximately 3 p.m.