Texas Roadhouse managing partner Steven Best, along with servers and cooks from the restaurant, had a huge catering job on Tuesday, Dec. 21. They served some of their signature dishes, including Sierra chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, carrot cake, red velvet cake and fresh fruit to more than 450 people.
At the end of the evening, the tired crew collected no tips, and the cost of the meals was totaled out to “zero.”
“This comes from the heart, not the wallet,” Best said.
The occasion was a special Welcome Table dinner at New Providence Presbyterian Church. More than 40 volunteers from Texas Roadhouse came to the church that morning, started cooking and stayed until the last guest was served, getting help along the way from the staff at Blount County Habitat for Humanity. The free meal combined the Welcome Tables from New Providence and First United Methodist Church of Maryville for the week.
Welcome Table is a weekly program at the two churches -- New Providence on Tuesdays and First United Methodist on Thursdays -- where volunteers and church members prepare and serve a free meal to anyone in the community who needs it. The program began serving meals in 2008.
Best said he and his staff pick a different charity each year to sponsor for the holidays. In 2009, they adopted the Blount County Children’s Home. This year they chose to cater a Welcome Table meal.
“It’s a good thing they do on a regular basis, so we wanted to show how we appreciate them,” Best said of the Welcome Table workers. “It’s all about giving back. It’s our way of saying thank you.”
The managing partner said the restaurant a normal catering job might go as high as 200 people, but serving the packed Westminster Hall at New Providence wasn’t that much of a stretch for his staff. He added that everything they served was made from scratch.
“We also contacted vendors and some area hotels who have donated sheets, clothing, blankets and tissues, and all the kids get Roadhouse Toy packs,” he said of gift items guests could take with them as they left.
Steve Musick, associate pastor for Outreach and Pastoral Care at New Providence, said Welcome Table started in September of 2008 at the church. They served 18 people at the first dinner. By September of 2010, they were serving 180 people at New Providence alone, he said.
Musick said two ladies in the church, Patty Quinn and Pam Bunde, had the original vision for Welcome Table, and it took about a year to organize the initiative, create a budget and hire a part-time coordinator before the first meal was served in the fall of 2008. “God took over, and it just grew,” Musick said.
Musick said the folks who come to Welcome Table for food have different degrees of health, and, when it gets dark earlier because of the season, some stay home. In warmer weather the Welcome Table at New Providence serves an average of 225. “Our numbers go down to about 180 (in the winter), but they’ll go back up in the spring,” he said.
When Tracy Fair started working part-time as Welcome Table coordinator, she also worked part-time at Texas Roadhouse, so she helped spread the word about the project to her co-workers, often collecting donations from the restaurant.
Musick said Best and his restaurant team did the whole Welcome Table experience. They came in and set up, cooked the food and served all the guests. The two churches combined their groups for this special event, which meant Best and crew served between 450 to 500 people.
“It is such a gift to be able to offer hospitality and then to receive a gift from Texas Roadhouse,” Musick said. “The idea of Christmas is embodied right here.”
New Providence Presbyterian Church pastor Rev. Dr. Emily Anderson was impressed with the work Texas Roadhouse employees were doing for Welcome Table. “It’s amazing, and it’s because of the generosity of folks like Steve Best and Texas Roadhouse,” she said. “That’s why we can do this.”
Capt. David Graves with the Maryville Police Department has worked security for the Welcome Table since it started two years ago. “The camaraderie and the community coming together is refreshing,” he said.
Musick said Graves has yet to accept pay for the time he gives each week. “I decided to volunteer because I realized it was a worthwhile cause, and I find it is rewarding,” Graves said.
Fair said she appreciated Texas Roadhouse and the gift they gave. “I feel supported, encouraged and, of course loved and very blessed,” she said as her former co-workers served the packed hall.
Guests John Pettitt and Susie Smalley said they enjoyed their dinner. “The quality of the food is really good,” Pettitt said and Smalley said, “It’s so good, he’s had a second plate.”
The employees at Texas Roadhouse said they enjoyed volunteering to help with Welcome Table.
Ben Maitlen said Welcome Table is a service people need. “I feel it’s important, and I love helping,” he said. Misty Russell said it seemed like the thing to do during the holidays. “It’s Christmas time. If people have the time to give, they should,” she said. “I’m blessed with time, so I’m happy to give. Everyone should be thinking about giving rather than receiving.”
Stacy Stillwell said he knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of the deal, so working at Welcome Table with his co-workers was especially poignant for him. He has dealt with homelessness in his own life and was happy to help Welcome Table guests.
“It’s my off day, but I don’t care,” said Stillwell. “This is the Christian thing to do. I was homeless before, four or five times, and I ate at the mission in Knoxville a lot,” he said. “The Lord freed me from alcohol, and I’ve not had a drink in five years this April.”
Musick said he hopes the Welcome Table continues to grow to serve more in the community. “My dream is it would grow to where we have five Welcome Tables.”
For information about Welcome Table, call New Providence at 865-983-0182 or First United Methodist Church at 865-982-1273.