SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine — The day before Thanksgiving, the Reed family was concerned about two things.
Would they get power back at their Main Street eatery? And would more people than usual show up for the free food they provide at their cafe every Thanksgiving Day?
A fierce storm Tuesday night and Wednesday morning had knocked out power to much of Maine’s coast and to several inland communities as well, which sent electric company crews scrambling as they tried to repair downed power lines before the holiday arrived. The Reeds figured that if people could not cook Thanksgiving meals at home, they might show up at their cafe instead.
Ralph Reed said Thursday that the Quietside Cafe, which his family has owned for 12 years, uses electricity to prepare the pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, seafood and other dishes that it serves all summer long. But after the power went out Tuesday night, they were offered the use of gas-powered equipment at Red Sky, another downtown Southwest Harbor restaurant.
The cafe’s power came back on Wednesday night, however, enabling the Reeds to prepare their traditional Thanksgiving feast the way they always have. They prepare as much as they can the night before and then arrive at the cafe at 4 a.m. Thanksgiving Day so they can start cooking and have enough ready to open their doors at 11 a.m.
“We didn’t know if we were going to get it done,” Reed said Thursday as people crowded the makeshift buffet line of the small cafe. “We didn’t know if more [people] were going to show up because of it.”
Reed said he, his wife, Frances, and their two daughters, Marlena and Ebony, have been serving free Thanksgiving meals for nine years now. The first year they did it, in 2000, they simply wanted to do it to show their gratitude for the community’s support, he said. He thought they would be open for a few hours and then would go over to a relative’s house that night for dinner.
“It didn’t work out,” he said. “We got too busy.”
Reed estimated that, shortly before 1 p.m. Thursday, they had fed about 100 people. They planned to serve food until 3 p.m., he said, and likely would have more Thanksgiving Day diners than they’ve ever had.
“We’ve got more people we don’t know, and from farther away,” Reed said, eyeing the three dining tables that were crammed together near the buffet line. “Maybe finally the word is getting out.”
Reed said it is a lot of work, but the annual event is worth the trouble. He said it would defeat the spirit of the effort if they charged people for the Thanksgiving meals.
“That’s the whole point,” Reed said. “We said, ‘It’s time to give something back at the end of the season.’”
One or two of the diners said they lived in neighboring Tremont and were still waiting for their power to come back on. But most who ate at the cafe said their electricity had been restored.
Sheila Swanson, who was there with her husband, Bill Swanson, said they came for the good food and neighborly atmosphere.
“It’s a great place to hang out,” she said. “They’re fabulous cooks. It’s like an extended family.”
Matthew Webber of Waterville was there for the food. He said he and his relatives, who own and operate Webber Builders Construction in Waterville, were in town to put a new metal roof on Sawyer’s Market. The work crew took a break to get a free Thanksgiving lunch at the cafe.
“We’ll be up here for a few days,” Webber said. “[The food] was excellent. A good spread.”
Jane Charry of New York City and Southwest Harbor came with her family for the food. She said they don’t come every year, but that they’ll come again sometime for Thanksgiving.
“We don’t plan that far ahead, but we’ll definitely be back,” Charry said. “It’s wonderful food.”