Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Free meals are their way of giving thanks

Free meals are their way of giving thanks
Campfire restaurant owners will give Thanksgiving dinners to seniors, needy
The Ann Arbor News
By Pamela Appea

Milan, Michigan—Mashed potatoes. Green beans. Rolls with butter. Turkey with gravy. And of course, a slice (or maybe two) of pumpkin pie. The road to a good Thanksgiving meal for many is just a quick trip to the supermarket or to a relative’s house. But others don’t have any place to go during the holidays.

This Thanksgiving, Campfire Family Steakhouse will once again open its doors offering a free meal for seniors, the homeless and others in need. Owned by George and Laurie Koukountzis, the steakhouse has offered perhaps thousands a good place to eat over the past 16 years.

George Koukountzis, 53, doesn’t really think Campfire’s Thanksgiving dinner is a big deal. Growing up in Greece, Koukountzis learned from his mother to always give and not expect much in return. For him, giving a free dinner every year is just the right thing to do.

Putting on an free Thanksgiving dinner, he said, is a way of paying his customers and the community back for supporting the restaurant.

According to Sandi Ellis, assistant manager at the restaurant, the community has given the Campfire staff a lot of positive feedback for the event. Each year, she said, the dinner becomes a bigger production since people spread the news by word of mouth.

It wasn’t easy, though, when Koukountzis began the dinner back in 1983. Now a longtime member of the Rotary and Kiwanis club in Milan, Koukountzis called every church and community organization he could think of that year.

“From Ypsilanti to Belleville to Saline to Tecumseh. We had to call all of those people to let them know there would be a Thanksgiving dinner,” he said.

And with the help of pastors and community leaders, the first dinner attracted around 150 people. Now over 450 people come to Campfire Restaurant each year for a free
meal--and plenty of paying customers also come to enjoy the more elaborate Thanksgiving meal too. (It includes roast beef, ham and tossed salad with the basic turkey and potato dishes.)

Laurie Koukountzis said it’s nice seeing the same faces coming every year.

“It’s too sad to be home alone. At least they have a friendly waitress to make them smile and to make them feel special,” she said.

She said that Campfire has been ironing out the logistics of the dinner since Nov. 1 and always makes sure to have enough staff on board for the dinner.

George Koukountzis can’t see any reason not to have the Thanksgiving dinner in the years to come.

“I’m not going to stop now. As long as I’m alive, I’m going to do it.”

Originally published Wednesday, November 24, 1999

For more information about the Thursday dinner, call George or Laurie Koukountzis at (734) 439-8889. The dinner starts at noon and ends at 5 p.m. For shut-ins and others not able to make it to the restaurant, Campfire will prepare a free meal to go, but will not deliver. Please call in advance for meals to go. Campfire Family Steakhouse is on 1035 Dexter Road, Exit 27 off US-23

Photo Caption: George Koukountzis has been giving a free Thanksgiving meal for the last 16 years to seniors, homeless and others at his Campfire Family Steak House in Milan.