Thanksgiving in the Tri-Cities is more than just a day; it is a season. It is a season of giving, of gratitude and a season of togetherness that reaches farther than family, friends or neighbors. It is a season that spans throughout the community in wide, sweeping expressions of solidarity…a community woven in thankfulness.
Joel Watson, the owner, the backbone and the heart of the fiercely popular, Just Joel’s Café, which is located on the rim of downtown Kennewick, was, himself, homeless only two years ago. With just a backpack and two pairs of shoes to his name, Joel found a purpose to get clean, find peace within himself and create something of value and significance in his life.
Through a purposeful and tenacious grit, a larger than life personality and a sincere and savvy talent, Just Joel’s opened in November of 2017. Serving up mouthwatering comfort food and a daily variety of creative and appealing homemade pies in an inviting and comfortable atmosphere, Joel has proved himself to not only be an inventive and skilled chef, but also a gifted and trusted moderator to his customers and employees. Joel has created a culture inside of a culture and built a business where positivity, humor and hard work are prevalent, as well as required.
Built on the foundation of a determination to not only succeed, but to also give back, Joel has never lost sight of his mission. In 2018, through Thanksgiving pie sales, Joel was able to donate $4,500 worth of coats to the local Union Gospel Mission. In addition to coats, Joel has also taken it upon himself to pay off the school lunch debt at a nearby grade school. When asked why, Joel will tell you that he knows what it’s like to be that person who is cold, hungry and alone, and he knows what it’s like to not have anybody in the world to call. He’s been there and he’s built a safe and trusted place in the community where someone can walk in the door when they find that they, too, have no one in the world.
The pre-sales for the pies will be announced on Facebook in early November and the options are fantastic, including homemade, unique flavors like Huckleberry Dream that are simply too dreamy to not have at the Thanksgiving table this year. Like Joel, his pies are legitimate, honest and vividly distinct. And although Joel hasn’t pinpointed which non-profit he will be donating to this season, he is certain he will be giving to a local charity that provides services to kids and teens in need.
The Just Joel’s generous message is vivid and clear…and it all starts with gratitude.
Across the river, in the center of the culturally dynamic and bustling downtown Pasco, the newly opened Havana Café sits cheerfully on the corner of 3rd and Lewis Streets. Menu favorites include a Cuban sandwich with shredded beef that is perfectly flavored with red and green peppers that bring just the right level of zest to your palette. Traditional and remarkably authentic Cuban rice and black beans will complete any meal.
Originally from Cuba, owner and operator, Leo Morales will talk all day about gratitude. Just three months after opening, vandals broke in and ravaged the comfortable, inviting atmosphere Leo had worked so hard to create. Overnight, the early success of the Café was derailed, almost irreparably. Devastated, Leo told his story and in doing so, inspired the community, who came together through volunteers, local non-profits and complete strangers that made it possible for Leo to reopen exactly one month after the staggering and catastrophic vandalism.
Overwhelmed with gratitude towards a community filled with people Leo had never even met, the Havana Café will be offering a free Thanksgiving dinner to people in need…to community members with no family, to immigrants, so far from home, or simply to people who cannot afford to prepare their own Thanksgiving meal. Leo is opening his doors as a way to express how grateful he is to a place that may not be his hometown, but to a place that has now become his home.
The Havana Café will be open from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving day, or until Leo runs out of food. Offering turkey, ham, rice, beans and yucca on his holiday menu, Leo will also be serving up generous helpings of gratitude and appreciation.
As Tri-Citians prepare for the season of giving, some register and run in the annual Gesa Credit Union Turkey Trot, which is an annual fundraiser that benefits the American Red Cross serving central and southeastern Washington. This family-friendly event draws an average of 3,000 festively dressed people to Kennewick’s Columbia Park to joyfully trot the one-mile or 5k distance. The spirits are soaring with good nature and holiday spirit as a generous and supportive community comes together once again to give back. Many arrive early and warm up with coffee and cocoa among friends, old and new. The riverfront trail is a spectacular venue for the colorful crowd who have come together once again in the essence of Thanksgiving.
There’s plenty of opportunities to embrace a season of giving, especially in Tri-Cities. Come for the camaraderie, the pies, the comfort food or the culturally rich options, brimming with flavor and flare. The Tri-Cities has it all, but most importantly, the Tri-Cities has grace.
Photo credits: Visit Tri-Cities, Gesa Credit Union