At 3 p.m. on the Monday before Thanksgiving, Syke’s Restaurant in Kalispell was a fairly quiet place, with just a few customers sitting at the tables and a kitchen populated mostly by dishwashers.
By Thursday morning, the restaurant will likely be packed with people seeking out the free Thanksgiving dinners that Syke’s has served for the last 25 years.
On Monday, Doug Wise, the owner of Syke’s, sat at a table near the kitchen with his friend, Monte Hall. Wise and a volunteer staff have had to prepare 24 “birds,” 14 or 15 hams, and “enough pumpkin pie for 800,” which is how many people they’ve served in recent years. The meals, which also include cranberry sauce and other traditional Thanksgiving fare, are served in 135-diner shifts from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wise says his restaurant also delivers 300 meals to people who can’t make it to the store.
“I used to do it at my house,” Wise says, “but we got so many people that Judy [his wife] thought we should do it at the store.”
Doug says he started serving the meals at his home, “Before you was born, for Christ sakes.”
Wise has owned the store, which serves as an anachronistic restaurant with 10-cent coffee, a cafeteria-style menu, a pharmacy and grocery, for “60-something years.”
Asked why he serves the free Thanksgiving dinners, which he mostly pays for out-of-pocket, he starts to talk about thanking the community, and how he feels like everyone here is his friend. But he cuts himself short and finishes with, “We don’t like to go around tootin’ our horns about it.”
Hall, sitting next to him in a well-worn black cowboy hat, elaborates, saying, “He’s got a heart bigger than he is.”
“I could tell you story after story,” he says, glancing over at his friend and smiling. “But I won’t.”