Thankful crowd enjoys Nugget’s annual free meal
Martha Hoover sat in a hand-knit wool hat outside the Carson Nugget Coffee Shop Thursday, waiting for her husband to join her after their Thanksgiving feast. She was one of about 1,600 people who accepted the Nugget’s offer of a free lunch of turkey or ham with all the fixings.
“Some people don’t consider cooking Thanksgiving dinner a hassle. Honey, I do,” she said. “And I am so glad for somebody else to be doing all the cooking.”
She said the food – especially the dressing – was terrific, and the service fast.
“They don’t even get your order and you’re served, practically,” she said.
A river of hungry people flowed into the coffee shop from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. There were couples, singles, families and groups of seven or eight.
Nugget Restaurant manager James Chavez organized the crowd.
“I need two deuces!” he called out, looking for two pairs of diners.
He recognized one of the men who approached.
“Hey, there he is, howya doin’?” he asked, placing his hands on the man’s shoulders.
“I’m good, James. Happy Gobble-gobble Day to you,” the man said, smiling behind thick glasses.
The Nugget has offered the free meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas for as long as anyone can remember. It’s been an annual tradition since Howard and Hop Adams bought the casino in 1957, said Kelly Brant, director of casino promotions.
He said current owners Alan and Brad Adams continue to offer the meals to give back to the community.
“They just don’t want anyone in the community to go hungry on Thanksgiving – that’s really it,” he said.
After so many years, the Nugget staff has the system down.
The four hostesses tell Chavez when they have a table cleaned and ready. As the long line approaches, he breaks it down.
Groups of two, three and four wait in a smaller line near the glass dessert case while larger groups are in the steak house waiting over cookies, soda and coffee until a table is ready.
“They been waiting a long time – make it good for them,” said Chavez as a hostess lead a group of seven into the restaurant.
“Thanks for your patience,” he said to the family.
“We are your patients,” an elderly man joked.
The Nugget Buffet and snack bar were also open Thursday. In all, Executive Sous Chef Sal Bracamontes said cooks make about 3,800 pounds of turkey and 1,000 pounds of ham. On top of all that, Nugget bakers had baked about 500 pre-ordered pies, which folks collected upstairs.
The line into the Nugget Coffee Shop had 600 people before the restaurant opened, said Brant, whose parents were planning to join him there later to eat.
Chavez said that compared to years past, it looked like a record-setting amount of diners.
“Roll ’em in and roll ’em out,” remarked a man in line to Chavez Thursday.
“Yeah, wave after wave,” he answered. “We have a lot of hungry people here today.”
Although the free meal started as a way to support the needy, a wider range of socioeconomic backgrounds enjoy the feast now. Men with new leather jackets and polished cowboy boots stood in line among lower-income families.
Brant explained that a lot of folks who come in for the meal are regular customers who help keep the Nugget open and keep a lot of people employed.
“It’s not going to kill us to feed them for Thanksgiving,” he said. “Anyway, it would kind of dampen the spirit of the day if we checked – what are we going to do, ask to see their tax returns?”