Rosa Linda's Mexican Restaurant shut its doors at the end of October after thirty years in business, but the community spirit that was such a big part of the Highland cantina's appeal is far from dead. Every year, Virgil and Rosa Linda Aguirre and their five children held an annual free Thanksgiving Feast for the needy, and that tradition ended when the restaurant closed — or so we thought. But now Johnny Ballen and Josh Olsen of the Squeaky Bean have committed to continuing the feast — and they're getting plenty of help from Denver's food-service community.
The Thanksgiving feed, which started out serving just a few hundred people but had grown to an annual fest for several thousand, will be held at the Squeaky Bean in LoDo this year instead of the building at 33rd Avenue and Tejon Street that the Aguirres own, and where the Bean got its start before moving downtown. The family is sharing its network of volunteers with Ballen and Olsen, but are otherwise handing the torch to the Squeaky Bean and a few local partners.
Ballen says their goal is to feed 3,000 members of the community from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving. He expects 300 to 500 people to actually eat at the restaurant; the rest of the meals will be delivered to those in need. Because of the short notice on planning this year, they're asking for donations of time, money and supplies to help make the event a success.
Olsen and Ballen are already partners with Warren Tech Career and Technical High School; students from the school help maintain Bean Acre, a plot of land in Lakewood that provides the eatery with much of its produce during the growing season. Warren Tech will be providing commercial kitchen space and student cooks for food prep in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.
Tundra Restaurant Equipment is donating to-go boxes, plates, utensils and disposable hotel pans for the effort, while nonprofit food redistribution organization We Don't Waste is providing some of the food, refrigerated trucks and other behind-the-scenes efforts to help pull off the event. "People don't realize that 40 percent of the food in this country never makes it to the table," explains We Don't Waste executive director Arlan Preblud, whose goal is to recover unserved food from the food-service industry and distribute it to those in need. "We'll provide turkeys and support and volunteers. We look to make this an annual event with the Squeaky Bean."
Others involved in the Thanksgiving feed include real estate and restaurant developer Paul Tamburello, who owns Little Man Ice Cream, and a slew of chefs that Ballen and Olsen have rounded up: Paul Reilly, Theo Adley, Justin Brunson, Lon Symensma, Max MacKissock and Kelly Whitaker among them. "I've done this before when we were Rosa Linda's tenant," explains Ballen. "We're not worried about getting the food ready — people in this business are used to working under pressure."
The hard part is coordinating the distribution. "We're just making sure those who are hungry are getting the food," Olsen notes. Some of the meals will be distributed through the Denver Housing Authority, which is also partnering with Qdoba, which is providing burritos for those who don't want a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
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Here's what the Squeaky Bean is planning on serving for the mid-day feast:
Pulled Braised Turkey
Traditional Green Bean Casserole
Farmhouse Herbed Stuffing
Grandpa Olsen’s Gravy
Deep South Sweet Potato Casserole
And of course, Thanksgiving Pie!
For information about donating or volunteering for this thirtieth anniversary Thanksgiving Feast — including on November 26, Thanksgiving Day — send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Squeaky Bean at 303-623-2665. Tax-deductible donations can also be made through We Don't Waste.