This Thursday, Scott Ellinger, owner of the Brass Rail Steakhouse
(4601 State Highway K, O’Fallon; 636-329-1349
) has the ambitious goal of serving Thanksgiving dinner to no less than 10,000 people in need. Many will eat in the restaurant itself, but most will have a free feast delivered to their home, as long as they are within a 60-mile radius of the restaurant.
Ellinger started the tradition five years ago — but it's grown rapidly. “We fed 105 people the first year, and we're well on our way to 10,000 this year,” Ellinger said.
The idea first came to Ellinger in 2012. That year, he opened his restaurant to family and friends on Thanksgiving, and random people who didn’t have anywhere else to go started coming in. Right away he started thinking a big meal giveaway was something he could do, and the next year, he went for it.
The restaurant's Thanksgiving meal and delivery has gotten bigger every year, but Ellinger says they're now at the maximum they could possibly handle. There is stuff piled to the ceiling inside the restaurant; you can only imagine the volume with 16,000 portion cups, 8,000 aluminum foil pans, and all the ingredients to fill them.
“At any given point, there are probably four people on the phone taking orders," Ellinger says. "My general manager is in the office for ten days MapQuesting all of the addresses trying to make sure we don’t miss anybody.”
This year, for the first time, the St. Louis BBQ Society is helping with preparation. Ellinger said a member messaged him on Facebook and the group was extremely enthusiastic about helping. Ellinger walked them through the plan for the week and told them to interject when they saw a place they could help. And so instead of Ellinger having to start cooking the turkeys on Sunday and toiling around the clock for the following three days, the BBQ Society is bringing its competition smoking rigs and cooking every single turkey on the day before Thanksgiving.
This year is also the first time Ellinger is attempting to add hats and gloves with every meal they serve. “It added so much stress, but it's so worth it,” Ellinger says. The Brass Rail has received donated cold weather items from almost every state in the country, Ellinger says.
Ellinger moved to St. Louis thirteen years ago from Ohio. He opened the Brass Rail seven years ago.
His huge act of charity has become a way to enjoy the holiday, even without extended family in town, he says.
“I used to love experimenting with different things and just cook myself something great for a couple of people and me," he says. "My family doesn’t live in St. Louis and have never been here in the thirteen years I’ve been here for Thanksgiving. But I opened the restaurant seven years ago, the employees and the regulars in the restaurant very quickly became my family."
He adds, "I don’t feel like I’m giving up anything. I’m gaining. If I ever stopped doing this, I would miss it.”
So far, 1,500 volunteers have signed up to prepare, donate and deliver meals on Thanksgiving Day. Volunteers are still needed to answer phones and take orders through November 22, with extra help needed on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. If you can volunteer, you're encouraged to call the Brass Rail at 636-329-1349.
Families in need can sign up by calling the Brass Rail at the same number (although, as of this morning, the restaurant announced that delivery orders are full). Anyone within a 60-mile radius of the restaurant can sign up for delivery.
The Brass Rail restaurant will also be open on Thanksgiving Day serving first responders, police, and firefighters, as well as homeless people.
Editor's note: We updated this story soon after publication to make it clear that the Brass Rail will be feeding 10,000 people, not 10,000 families — and that deliveries have now been maxed out.
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