CLEARWATER — Johnny's Italian Restaurant closes just two days each year: Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Not this year.
The restaurant will shut down on Christmas as normal. But doors will open wide on Thanksgiving as owners Johnny and Rosemary Nadeau, their 11-year-old son Johnny Jr., employees and volunteers host Share the Bounty, a free holiday meal for people in need.
With help from local churches, vendors and distributor Sysco Food Services, the 175-seat Italian restaurant at 2907 State Road 590 will dish out turkey with all the trimmings Thursday.
The free meal idea came from Rosemary Nadeau.
"We want to fill the seats with needy families and those who may not have family to celebrate with," Johnny Nadeau said.
The Haven of Religious Community Services, Calvary Baptist Church, Harborside Christian Church and other local churches and organizations provided names of those in need.
Lisa Matzner, director of development at Religious Community Services of Clearwater, said information on Share the Bounty was passed on to participants in the Haven of RCS and the organization's three other programs: RCS Grace House, a shelter for the homeless; a food bank; and a thrift store.
"What we're seeing more of this year are people who might have in the past written a check — but may not be able to this year — donating in-kind services," she said. "People are finding creative solutions to help the community.
"That's very endearing to us at RCS. What Johnny's Italian Restaurant is doing is very moving and generous."
More than half the seats are taken for Thursday's dinner.
"If someone knows a family in need, they can call me," said Rosemary Nadeau. "Out of the numbers of people we expect so far, half are children. One mother's coming with seven children."
Because of the number of little ones expected, Share the Bounty hopes to find face-painters or balloon-shapers to volunteer as entertainment. Even if that doesn't happen, diners young and old will have a festive Thanksgiving dinner.
"For one day, the restaurant won't serve Italian," Rosemary Nadeau said.
"At 2 p.m., we'll have one seating and serve all the meals. If all goes well, we may do it again next year."
Even though the restaurant will be closed on only Christmas this year, she said no employees have complained.
"I was pleased people offered to give up their holiday at home to help," she said. "Usually we have three holiday parties, but we've scrapped them all. These are hard times. This is our way to give back to a community that's supported us for 28 years."