December 04, 2013 - By Ana Cordera
Owner of CJ's Carl Slomczenski chats with a customer during the annual Thanksgiving Dinner the restaurant has been hosting for over 30 years. (click for larger version)
Review Special Writer
On Thanksgiving Day, CJ's Lakeside Grill restaurant in downtown Lake Orion, gave away an estimated 400 Thanksgiving meals to anyone that stopped by—for no charge at all.
Carl Slomczenski, the restaurant's owner, has organized the event for the past 16 years and said the tradition has been going on for about 35 years. This kind of generosity and dedication led the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority to award CJ's with the Business of the Year title.
"All the hard work put in and all the care, it doesn't go unnoticed," Slomczenski said. "It was nice to be recognized."
In addition to the free meals, Slomczenski also raised money for the Lions' Club's Christmas fund and in the past, has donated leftover meals to a food bank.
On Turkey Day, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the restaurant offered a variety of things. Everything from the traditional Thanksgiving cuisine like turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, to salad, cookies and coffee was readily available to eat, sip and enjoy.
Slomczenski's two daughters along with employees' children and others waited on customers and served them their drinks and food. Volunteers cleaned tables, cooked and even delivered meals to the police department and fire station. Throughout the event, people came in and out. At one point, Slomczenski said there even was a line out the door. The crowd was expected, though. As the years pass, the amount of people who participate in the event increases.
"It's really grown over the years," Cindy Hickey, a volunteer who has taken part in the event for the past 30 years, said.
Hickey, who once worked at CJ's, said she looks forward to this event every year.
"It shows great support for the community," she said. "You can kind of just feel the warmth here."
Other volunteers agreed. Susan Mack, a first-time helper who delivered 17 meals to the police and fire stations, called the experience fantastic and said she hopes to help out again next year. Even the kids, who serve the meals, loved the experience. Morgan Slomczenski, the owner's daughter, said she has participated in the event since she could remember and has loved it every time.
"Tons of people work hard," she said. "They deserve it."
As for the people who took advantage of the free meals this past Thursday, they said they could not be anymore thankful for the service.
"I've been coming here for the last three Thanksgivings," Bea Leipprandt, a Lake Orion resident, said. "I think it's so nice, otherwise I would have to be alone."
For Sharon McCoy, who just lives with her husband, the free meal means no hassle in the kitchen.
"I'm not a big cook," she said. "[So] I'm thankful for the whole community for coming out and helping."
People like Leipprandt and McCoy and those who are in tight economic situations are why Slomczenski keeps doing the event.
"(It gives) everybody that's not doing well or somebody that doesn't have a family a place to go," he said.