L AFAYETTE — Ema Haq opened the doors to Bailey’s Seafood & Grill 22 years ago and has been hosting an annual Thanksgiving luncheon ever since that provides a proper holiday meal to struggling Lafayette residents.
Haq, 51, a native of Bangladesh, moved to Lafayette when he was 19 to study mechanical engineering at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette but soon found his calling in the restaurant business.
He said it was his unfamiliarity with American holidays and the support he received from friends at the time that prompted him to begin his restaurant’s holiday tradition.
“My best friend in college invited me to his family gathering, when I had no idea what Thanksgiving was,” he said. “It meant a lot to me, especially seeing so many people reach out and help.”
The restaurant, at 5520-A Johnston St., will be open on Thanksgiving Day from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.
He estimated more than 800 meals were served to the community last year and said he plans to prepare about 1,000 this year.
With the aid of about 50 volunteers — including employees, family and friends — preparations are set to begin Sunday and will go until Wednesday.
On Thursday, the doors will open to everybody looking for a warm meal.
Haq said he realizes there are some who may struggle with finding transportation or who are unable to leave the confines of their home because of physical disabilities. He said arrangements have been made to assist such people in getting to the restaurant.
Meals also can be delivered to people who are homebound due to a physical handicap.
Haq said he saw what poverty looks like while growing up even though his family was well-off. He said the family never had a meal without sharing.
“It’s become very personal now,” he said. “In America, we have so much freedom to do what we want. We live in a great nation, but we also have the responsibility to reach out and help those who need it.”
He added, “We don’t live in a Third World country, but there are so many people who go without the basics, like food. We want to make sure people don’t just receive canned food because it’s important to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal.”