RAWLINS -- For more than two decades Mike Lujan, owner of Mike's Big City Steakhouse, has made it a point to give back to his community whenever he can though his talent as a chef.
Whether it's feeding local school children a wholesome meal, handing out free hamburgers and soda after high school graduation, providing hot dogs and chips after homecoming or filling an empty stomach of somebody down on their luck, Lujan has lived by the spiritual credo "We are our brother's keeper."
In his 20th year as a restaurateur, Lujan again puts those words into action.
From 1-5 p.m. Thursday, Lujan will offer up his annual Turkey Dinner, free of charge to anyone whether rich or poor, unemployed or holding down a job, shut in because of COVID-19 or challenged by the mere thought of cooking a multi course dinner let alone the sadness of fixing a Banquet frozen meal in the microwave.
Whether you choose to call or text ahead – 307-321-6453 – for restaurant pickup service in the steakhouse parking lot, 1711 W. Spruce St., or phone in a request for home delivery, nobody will be turned away.
"Twenty years doing this event, isn't that amazing," Lujan said. "In fact, this is something that's lasted longer than many restaurants. To still be able to be here and continuing to do this all these years is very humbling."
Last year, Lujan served more than 700 meals to local residents with all the fix-ins including desert that hit the after dinner sweet spot. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lujan anticipates this Thanksgiving many more turkey dinners will fly out of his restaurant's kitchen.
As of Monday, more than 500 meals have been ordered. Lujan anticipates when Thursdays meal service is over he will have cooked between 80 to 90 turkeys. To put it in perspective, last year he cooked 63 birds.
It is no small feat cooking that many turkeys, Lujan said.
All of the accoutrements are scratch made and prepared fresh with the first of the birds going on the grill the night before regardless of Rawlins' unpredictable and sometimes brutal weather. He added that any leftovers will be turned into sandwiches to go to hungry people.
"Looking back on this year, what a time to continue to step up," he added. "This year it's going to be impressive."
Lujan did not begin his altruistic journey in isolation.
Dedication and commitment to community were gifts given by Lujan's parents at an early age, he said.
“In 1973, when my parents opened the restaurant, it was very, very important that nobody ever left here hungry," Lujan added. "I remember my parents would always feed people even if they didn't have any money and how they felt the responsibility to look out for those in need."
Fast forward 20 years when Lujan began running the steakhouse.
"I look back on the great memories of growing up and I wanted to do the same things as my parents did for this community," he said. "It was really an automatic response to continue providing food to the hungry. We knew one of the best ways to do this was through our Thanksgiving meals."
Along with his family's financial commitment to make Thanksgiving dinners a reality, Carbon County Memorial Hospital has provided turkeys to the cause and volunteers to help with food prep and delivery service.
St. Vincent De Paul and other community organizations also support Lujan's outreach efforts.
"People in this community giving back have become a huge part of our life and we are so grateful for that." Lujan said.
Since 2013, Sidney Brown and his family of five has looked forward to making the call for the meal delivery, saying it's "kind of like a Christmas gift" you get to open before Christmas.
Although Brown is one of many Carbon County's working poor, making financial ends meet especially at the end of the year is always a challenge, he said.
"A free turkey dinner may not seem like a lot to some people but for my family it means so much," Brown said. "We manage to stretch the food to feed the kids for a couple of days longer and that can really mean buying enough gas to get to work so I can continue to bring home a paycheck and pray everything will be okay. But, I know everything will be OK."
Without hope, Brown added, "we have nothing."
With national news coverage of people waiting hours for food baskets and reports of families on the brink of eviction and mass employment losses across the country, it is hard to stay optimistic, Brown said.
Lujan agrees that without hope it's hard to start the day, but living life with an ever half-glass-full attitude what else is than hope, Lujan added.
"I don't know what the new normal will be," Lujan said. "But, I feel people have such big hearts and they will not let things fail. Once we get rid of the anger, hatred and animosity in this country we are going to be able to make a difference and I feel very good about that."