Giving thanks with free Thanksgiving dinners to veterans and others in need

Luis Siguencia of Flanders and his family opened Golden Jalapeños Café in Calverton in 2014 and started offering free Thanksgiving dinners to veterans and people in need their first year in business.

This year, Mr. Siguencia, his wife and co-owner, Geidi Lezama, and their 16-year-old daughter, Joanne Siguencia, have purchased 68 turkeys to distribute to those in need. Last year, they purchased and distributed 64, and in 2017, 45 were given out.

“I see a lot of people sometimes, they have a hard time with food,” Mr. Siguencia said. “In the wintertime, a lot of people are not working and, really, I want to teach my kid to do the right thing. I got my daughter, I hope one day she’ll be doing the same. The kids grow up the way we teach them. The way my parents taught me to be is the way I turned out and I hope my daughter does, too.”

Mr. Siguencia immigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador when he was just 14. Chasing the American dream, his early years were spent in Astoria, Queens, working at Bartolino’s restaurant. There, he began as a dishwasher in 1992 and within a year had worked his way up to a line chef position. By 1994, he was top chef and not long after, he attended the Culinary Academy of Long Island to hone his skills. He also spent 14 years as head chef at World Pie in Bridgehampton and by then had specialties in Italian and French cuisine. His wife specializes in Spanish cuisine, he said, as she is from Mexico and is skilled in cooking Hispanic food. In time, Mr. Siguencia also managed to master Tex-Mex cuisine and now includes all different styles of food on his specials menu.

Ahead of this Thanksgiving, he and his family are giving their thanks to veterans with free dinners, for which he will give either a whole turkey or a portion of a turkey. He cooks the turkeys and will even arrange delivery for veterans and the elderly. Able-bodied veterans in need can come to the restaurant and pick up their meals.

“If I had money I would do it all the time,” Mr. Siguencia said, “but I do it once a year.”

This year, he has already gotten 44 requests for turkeys.

When he came to this country, he said, many people helped him and, in response, he wants to give back to those who put their lives on the line for himself and his family.

“I don’t need a lot of money to be happy,” he said. “It was like, as soon as I have enough to take care of my family, I can give it back to somebody else who really needs more than me.”

In addition to the Calverton restaurant, on Middle Country Road, Mr. Siguencia previously owned a Golden Jalapeños Café in Jamesport, but issues with the town and the landlord forced him to leave. He has a Golden Jalapeños food truck in Ridge, which is used for catering. And now, he’s set on opening another Golden Jalapeños Café in Middle Island, where he expects the permit process and construction to commence soon. His hope is to open by February. The kitchen there, he said, is bigger and will allow him and his family to do more for others.

The family already donates to various schools, charities, organizations and nonprofits through their business and have done extensive work with veterans in the past.

“Someone said, thank you for what you do for my people. And I was like … ”

Mr. Siguencia said he was shocked because he didn’t feel that what he was doing was anything unusual.

Photo caption: Luis Siguencia of Flanders is offering free Thanksgiving dinners for veterans for the third year in a row. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

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