Free Thanksgiving Dinners offered at Big Ed’s BBQ in Waukegan

Big Ed’s BBQ at Fountain Square in Waukegan will be giving away Free turkey dinners from Noon-3 p.m.  on Thanksgiving Day. – ©RosemaryBuffoni
by Long Hwa-shu

Ed Nero, owner of the Big Ed’s BBQ at Fountain Square in Waukegan, is not only big in stature, he has a big and tender heart.

He said he will offer free turkey dinners at his 75-seat restaurant this Thanksgiving from 12 noon to 3 p.m.

“Everyone is welcome. Anyone can come. It’s our way to give back to the community which has been supporting us for the past eight years,” he said warmly.

“It’s going to be a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings including green beans, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and also sweet potatoes and soda,” he gushed in a cheery holiday spirit. People, he added, can take the dinner home if they choose.

This is the first time Ed is doing this since he opened the eatery noted for its barbecue ribs and chicken nearly two years ago. It has been featured on “Chicago’s Best” on WGN Channel 9, among other news outlets.

Since he mentioned about his plans for the free Thanksgiving dinner on Facebook, the response, he said, has been “tremendous.“

We’ve got 30,000 hits on Facebook. Donations just started to pour in as a result.”

Among the donors, he said, are Performance Foods, his food supplier; Reinhart Food Service and Pepsi.

“We just got eight turkeys this morning (Nov. 17),” Ed said excitedly.

He is not sure how many people will show up for the free dinner since this is his first, but he is expecting at least 300 people.

“We will have plenty to spare just in case more people should decide to come,” he said confidently, pointing out that he will roast 20 turkeys to start out with.

Already 20 people have volunteered to help serve the diners on Thanksgiving, he added.

Ed started in the restaurant business in 2008 when he opened an eatery in downtown Waukegan which he closed after he opened at Fountain Square. In between he was also in downtown Libertyville for a time, which he closed to focus solely on his Fountain Square location, which he describes as “the best it has been.”

With Big Ed are working business partners from left are Katie Sullivan, Kim Nero, and Rhonda Gage.
With Big Ed are working business partners from left Katie Sullivan, his wife Kim Nero, and Rhonda Gage. – Big Ed’s BBQ photo

Although he attended Kendall Culinary School which he did not complete, Ed said he learned cooking from his parents who lived on the South Side of Chicago.

Business at Fountain Square has been so good that he and his three partners plan to buy the free-standing building, formerly a Pizza Hut, they are leasing with an option to buy.

“We want to expand it, adding more seating,” said Ed who is the principal owner. His other partners are his wife Kim, Katie Sullivan and Rhonda Gage.

“All are working partners” he said.

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