El Sombrero serving up annual Thanksgiving feast

Mike Ullery | Miami Valley Sunday News file photo

Ruben Pelayo, owner of El Sombrero Mexican Restaurant in Troy, works in the kitchen of his restaurant in Troy during Thanksgiving Day in 2018.

By Melody Vallieu

Editor, Miami Valley Today

TROY — A quarter of a century later, it will be business as usual for the 25-year celebration of El Sombrero’s Thanksgiving meal.

And by that, owner Ruben Pelayo and his American “mom” Judy Rose mean feeding the estimated 4,125 guests a turkey dinner with all the fixings — mixed in with some fellowship — on Thanksgiving day.

The meal will again be offered free to the community from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 28, at 1700 N. County Road 25-A, Troy.

Continuing to fulfill a promise he made to his mother to help his community, Pelayo will offer the traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the trimmings, which will be offered for dine-in only. This year’s feast will include turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls and pumpkin pie. There will be no carry-outs or deliveries, unfortunately, according to Rose.

Both Pelayo and Rose stress that while they absolutely want to reach out to those in need, the meal is for anyone who wishes to have a good holiday dinner and socialize with others.

“It’s intended for everyone. Whether you are a millionaire or a family struggling to make ends meet, we welcome you,” Rose said. “The more people that come, the happier we are.”

Rose said a core group of about 12 people help to plan the dinner each year; however, many more volunteers — most longtime customers — help in the restaurant on Thanksgiving day. Rose said employees begin cooking some 125 turkeys to feed visitors in the weeks prior to Thanksgiving in order to have them all ready for the dinner.

“I don’t think I can even express how much the volunteers mean to us,” said Rose, who said there are a few who have volunteered for 20 years. “All of the help and encouragement they offer is simply overwhelming.”

Pelayo concurs and said he hopes to continue the meal for many years to come.

“I will do it as long as the community stays behind me,” said Pelayo, who said he begins to cook the turkeys and freeze them up to three weeks in advance in order to have them ready. “It feels good.”

The restaurant’s cooks, most from Mexico, are paid, and see the holiday as just another day of work, Rose said, as Thanksgiving is not recognized in their country. They use the turkey and a pato sauce to make spicy tacos and burritos for themselves, she said.

The meal — formerly served buffet-style many years ago — will again will be a sit-down dinner, with each visitor being personally served by volunteers.

“Ruben wanted to make it more family style,” Rose said. “To make people more at home.”

Pelayo each year receives some help from the public and vendors to offset the cost of the dinner. However, Rose said in all, the dinner will cost upward of $16,000 to serve the thousands of area residents who will join them. Rose said some of their suppliers donate supplies for the meal and community members will even drop off turkeys they either have purchased or received from their employers. Local businesses also have come together to help with the meal by making donations, Rose said.

“We are most thankful for all the donations,” Rose said.

A table with homemade items, many made by Rose herself, is set up in the Troy restaurant, and any money made from the items is put directly into the fund for the annual meal. She said she has raised nearly $3,00o this year by selling her handmade American Girl doll outfits and that much of the material and accessories is donated by community members.

Any leftover food from the meal is immediately donated to the Bethany Center in Piqua and St. Patrick Soup Kitchen in Troy, according to Pelayo — so much so that Rose said she sometimes can’t manage enough turkey to have a sandwich the day after.

“Whatever is left, it goes to the soup kitchens,” said Pelayo, who also supports both with monthly meat donations. “It serves the same purpose, feeding those who need it.”