El Sombrero enters 27th year of community Thanksgiving dinner


TROY — Ruben Pelayo knew that when he put down roots in Troy, he wanted to give back to the community in whatever way he could.

“My mother used to, once a year, when we were little in Mexico, cook for the poor people. If she used to do that, why wouldn’t I be able to do that myself? That’s what inspired this,” Pelayo, owner of El Sombrero in Troy, said.

The first community Thanksgiving meal started in 1994 and has continued and grown every year since. In the past, anyone wanting a meal could come to El Sombrero and join a long table with others to enjoy a family-style Thanksgiving featuring turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls and pumpkin pie. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last year, the Thanksgiving meal shifted to a drive-thru system, and will be maintained this way this year.

“Last year was the COVID, and it’s still a concern,” Pelayo said. “I’m still concerned about that. Some people don’t believe in getting the shot, and I respect that. I don’t want to put anybody at risk.”

Additionally, Pelayo said with distancing in the restaurant, he doesn’t have the tables or space to accommodate a family-style dine-in only meal.

“I think we’re fine, as far as the drive-thru goes, and I can reach more people. I want to do it this way again and see that maybe this is the way to go — who knows,” Pelayo said.

This years’ meal will include favorites such as turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy and a dessert, and is offered to anyone wanting a meal on Thanksgiving day. Pelayo said that it’s been possible to continue the free community meal thanks to support from donations in the community, as well as volunteers who help prepare and serve the meals and direct traffic through the parking lot to make the drive-thru option possible.

“The community has always been behind me. I’ve been blessed from that side,” Pelayo said. “Without the community, I’m not saying it would be impossible, but right now, with the way things are — really hard. Not impossible, but it would be hard.”

Pelayo recalled that early on when he started doing the community Thanksgiving dinners, the restaurant was robbed and the money set aside to purchase the food for the meal had been stolen. A man from California who was staying in Troy had watched the news report regarding the robbery and decided to dine at El Sombrero for lunch. He left behind a tip — over $900 — to help replace the money that had been stolen so that the restaurant could still serve the free meals that year.

“Just out of nowhere — that guy wasn’t even from Troy, he was from California. He saw the story, and there’s a lot of people out there, they don’t want you to know who they are but they want to help,” Pelayo said. “I just do it because it feels right — a good deed.”

With the meal growing in popularity every year, Pelayo starts preparing for Thanksgiving day well in advance. He’s already begun cooking, cutting and freezing turkeys in anticipation of the day. He’s cooked over 24 turkeys currently and anticipates cooking over 100 turkeys this year, compared to the 95 cooked last year. Prepping this far in advance also helps him maintain the space needed for all food and supplies for the meals.

“It’s not an easy thing to do, but as long as I am capable — as long as I have the place here and can be able to say, ‘yes, I can do so’, I will continue to do it,” Pelayo said. “Hopefully, we will have enough food to serve everybody.”

The community Thanksgiving dinner will be held Thursday, Nov. 25 from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. at El Sombrero, 1700 N. County Road 25A in Troy.

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