It was a very different Thanksgiving from any we have experienced before, and yet full of surprises and innovation.

We decided to do Thanksgiving dinner at our Ten Depot Street takeout operation after receiving several phone calls asking if we would be open. As we are all trying to limit social gatherings, we knew that many people would be alone or with just a few household members and that they would not want to cook a big turkey dinner.

So we decided that we could cook for 100 people and postpone our own Thanksgiving until Friday. That way our customers would be like one big family, sharing the same meal. It worked. We sold 25 dinners for four and 25 individual dinners for a total of 125. Many of our customers bought dinners for others.

Because cooking a good Thanksgiving dinner means getting the best ingredients to start with, our dinner was a community effort, sourcing the best local food available whenever possible. For this meal we had sweet onions from the Boehnes, parsnips from Nella Mae’s Farm, beets from Platz Farm, pumpkin and huckleberries from Anne Dickison, eggs from Val’s Veggies, fresh green beans and other vegetables through Nature’s Pantry and Jonathan apples (which my pie making aunt Arlene always swore made the best pies) from a tree in a friend’s yard.

I learned to cook Thanksgiving dinner as a child, helping my two grandmothers and my mother. It was a joyous time. Most of the recipes that I use now are the ones I learned from them. Both of my grandmothers, friends before my parents met, were excellent cooks, born in 1901.

It gives me joy to think that their memory lives through the excellent food that our restaurant is able to share with the community. My grandmothers are also links to what we are experiencing currently, one losing a mother and the other a brother in the 1918 flu pandemic. I think about their experiences a lot.

So we managed to pull it off. Being a restauranteur is about innovation, seeing a need and filling it.

Who knows what the future of the restaurant world will be. What I do know is that when we emerge from this pandemic, it will be different.

The cost of labor and goods is too high to make a profit or even break even with what people were willing to pay for the product in the past. Family operations can survive only if they don’t have to pay employees. Otherwise, the increased costs associated with service, mainly due to increased minimum wages and other costs associated with wages, will put them under. We just got a notice that our unemployment insurance rate it going up. Of course.

We are squeezed constantly for more money for the state through hidden taxes on alcohol, beer and wine. There seems to be a disconnect between those making the laws and those trying to survive in business. Small businesses are treated like they have endless resources.

When relief money was offered by the state last week, we had 24 hours to apply, with a long and for some, complicated application process. Most businesses trying to survive don’t have the time to fill out such an application. They don’t have a resource person to do the work. And when offered on a first come first serve basis, probably wouldn’t be far enough ahead in line to make it anyway. We didn’t have time to apply because we were cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

For now we are happy to just prepare good food and get it out to our customers as best we can.We love seeing our customers at the take-out window. Whatever the future brings, we will somehow adapt. Hopefully our local government will pay some attention. We just got a bill from the health department for the annual license. How do we pay for that with so little money coming in?


Sandra Sorrels is the owner of Ten Depot Street Restaurant, La Grande.

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