Owner of Vancouver restaurant expects 700 for free Christmas Day meal
For Clark County Today
VANCOUVER — This Christmas, a 50-year Vancouver tradition will carry on against all odds, as a local restaurant owner does more than his fair share to bring the holiday spirit to those who need it most.
Downtown Vancouver restaurant Warehouse ‘23 will be open for business on Christmas Day, but not for the customers the restaurant normally serves. Instead, an army of volunteers will be dishing up a free traditional Christmas dinner to underprivileged members of the Clark County community. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 25, over 700 homeless or low-income guests are expected to dine at Warehouse ‘23, where they will be served a full Christmas feast complete with turkey, ham, gravy, mashed potatoes, and pie.
The same charity was offered at Warehouse ‘23 on Thanksgiving Day of 2016 and 2017, but this will be the first year it has been put on by the restaurant on Christmas Day. However, the free holiday meal event has been around the Vancouver area since 1968, when Judge Rich Melnick and Chuck Chronis, former owner of Chronis’ Restaurant and Lounge, first began cooking up holiday feasts for the underprivileged residents of Vancouver. This program continued until two years ago, when Chronis sold his restaurant and handed the baton off to Mark Matthias, owner of Warehouse ‘23.
“I called Chuck Chronis and Judge Rich Melnick, who were the founders of this program, and asked them if they wanted to resurrect it here,” Matthias explains.
And resurrect it, they did; 300 people turned up for Warehouse ‘23’s first Thanksgiving dinner in 2016, a number that doubled to 600 this past year. On Monday, Matthias expects over 700 attendees at the Christmas dinner, and has more than enough help to make the event a success. In fact, so many people have come forward to offer their help that Matthias has had to turn away some volunteers.
“I’ll have a total of 40-something volunteers for the day working two shifts, and they’re just all local folks who want to get involved,” Matthias says. “We’ve got some people who are bringing in their whole families to volunteer.”
And even after getting out of the restaurant business, Chuck Chronis still comes back to help put on the event.
“He did it out of the goodness of his heart, and he’s still here 50 years later doing this,” says Matthias. “We take care of all the operational stuff, but he’s usually here the whole day and chats with people. It’s just great to have him here.”
Even those who are not able to volunteer at the dinner have found other ways to benefit the cause. Each person who receives dinner on Christmas Day will also be given gifts, including a “care package,” with hats, gloves, and socks in preparation for the coming winter weather. Much of the supplies for this giveaway are donated by local families.
According to Matthias, “They actually get a bag that we call our ‘’essentials bag,’’ with some basic supplies. We have toys for the kids, so before everybody leaves they also get a gift.”
Of course, it takes more than a restaurant and a few dozen volunteers to make this event a success. Matthias says that other local businesses have joined in the effort, including Sysco, the restaurant’s food provider, Portland French Bakery, and Krispy Kreme Donuts. Even Vancouver Mayor-Elect Anne McEnerny-Ogle has gotten involved, baking 12 pies for the most recent Thanksgiving dinner.
In other areas across Clark County, people are finding different, creative ways to get in the holiday spirit of giving. While Warehouse ‘23 is welcoming the less fortunate into their restaurant, Bonnie Brasure at Bleu Door Bakery will bring food out into the community, serving homeless shelters, camps, and low-income families. In addition, a handful of local churches will be offering similar programs on Dec. 25.
For Mark Matthias, the time and effort that goes into the Christmas Day dinner charity becomes worth it when the masses begin to arrive at the restaurant doors.
“They’re just great folks. It’s a lot of fun,” says Matthias. “Great conversations with them, and we get a real myriad of people that come in. They’re very thankful, so I can’t think of anything better to do on those days.”
Those interested in learning more about the holiday meal charity at Warehouse 23 can call the restaurant line at (360) 750-7256. Warehouse ‘23 is located at 100 Columbia Street in Vancouver.