C J’s Pancake House may be known for its pancakes, but they won’t be serving any on Thursday.They also won’t be accepting money.
This story first appeared in the Dec. 22 edition of the Kansan.C J’s Pancake House may be known for its pancakes, but they won’t be serving any on Thursday.They also won’t be accepting money.But they are expecting as many as several hundred diners to attend the restaurant’s annual free holiday dinner on Christmas Day.No reservations are required, nor are there any requirements to eat, expect to perhaps come hungry.C J’s owner, C.J. Lanham, donates all the food for the dinner and shows up bright and early at 5 a.m. on what would be the only day the restaurant closes.Five of the restaurant’s employees, along with family members, volunteer to and work their holiday.Diners will enjoy a turkey dinner with all the fixin’s, including mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Christmas Day.Although the dinner has been served buffet style in the past, this year diners will be served at their table.The Christmas dinner draws a mix of people. Some diners don’t have the money for a big, fancy Christmas dinner; others are just lonely and have nowhere else to go, and still others are traveling and just happened upon the pancake house and its holiday ritual.“It’s sad to think there are people who don’t have somewhere to go,” said Diana Montgomery, cook.Lanham will not take any money for dinner. However, he had such an outpouring from people wanting to donate money to show their appreciation, he accepted donations for Hospice last year.“I have people who insist on paying,” he said. “There is no criteria to eat. They could show up in a BMW, wearing a $1,000 suit, and I would feed them.”Diners donated $300 to Hospice last Christmas, and any money donated will go to that organization again this year.Lanham chose the charity because the organization helped his father prior to his death from cancer in 1990.“That’s a debt I can’t ever pay back,” Lanham said.This is the seventh year Lanham has opened his restaurant to the public on Christmas.However, he has never asked for any accolades for his efforts. A Kansan reader called in and suggested this story.“This is what Christmas is all about,” Lanham said. “It’s giving and not receiving. It makes me feel good.”Lanham has gotten his wife and daughter in on his Christmas project — a project his 14-year daughter has embraced.“God calls me to love everyone and share God’s love,” Sara Lanham said. “I have been doing it for years, and we like to give of ourselves.”Some of the employees expressed concern about the crowd they might get this year considering the state of the economy.When the restaurant opened last year, 75 people were waiting outside the door to eat.“The crowds keep getting bigger,” C.J. Lanham said.Despite the long day, (C.J. and the staff usually don’t get home until about 4 p.m.), the restaurant owner and his crew say there is nothing they would rather do than serve others on Christmas Day.“It is a lot of fun. It’s always joyful,” Danny Lassley said. “It’s better than being at home and collecting presents.”