Hundreds feast for free at Nugget

Nugget cook Marino Banuelos stirs up one giant batch of turkey gravy at the Nugget Thursday morning.

Nugget cook Marino Banuelos stirs up one giant batch of turkey gravy at the Nugget Thursday morning.

The Carson Nugget started the holiday season with its gift to the community for the 45th year: a free Thanksgiving feast for hundreds of coffee shop diners Thursday morning.

While the many happy diners declined to be clearly identified, the mood of the room was upbeat from the servers to the busboys to the cooks. As bright sun greeted the diners lined up in the late-morning chill, Nugget employees rushed to prepare and serve a mountain of turkeys, stuffing, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, green salad and pies smothered in whipped cream.

"Everyone's nice and friendly," said a beaming Heike Bowers, a Nugget server who has worked Thanksgiving for seven years.

"You know it doesn't bother me at all" to work the holiday, Bowers said. "My children are grown up; I had my time with the kids, and now it's time for other people."

A middle-aged woman chatted in Spanish with her two grown sons and daughter. They agreed the meal prepared under the direction of Nugget Executive Chef Mario B. Santos was "sabrosa," or "delicious."

Santos emerged from his rear kitchen office just before 11 a.m. to talk about his 100-member kitchen and wait staff.

"We got a lot of turkeys," he said as steam rose from an oven where some of the 3,600 pounds of the birds are cooked.

"I need one more turkey and another ham," said a burly waiter to several grinning cooks behind a serving counter.

"Three more salads," said another waiter as he dodged a platter of steaming plates loaded with fragrant stuffing and potatoes dripping with gravy.

Waitress Pam Taylor hauled the heavy platter through a swinging door as a busboy pushed a load of dirty glasses through the other way.

Casino promotions director Kelly Brant side-stepped the rush and moved to the buzzing coffee shop where a keno caller's voice droned with the next number. A waitress sped by him with what appeared to be a pumpkin pie slice buried in whipped cream.

A few of the customers might have paid for their meals, but the vast majority of them just signed their names and wrote "I am a guest of the Nugget" on their tabs.

Brant said the total number of diners Thursday was still being tabulated in the late afternoon, but was expected to surpass last year's 1,900, including those who enjoyed the buffet.


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