Daytonian of the Week: El Sombrero owner hosts 25 years of free Thanksgiving dinners

When friends and neighbors sit down at El Sombrero Mexican Restaurant in Troy this Thanksgiving, it will mark the 25th year Ruben Pelayo has opened both his heart and his restaurant to the community.

Each year, El Sombrero, located at 1700 N. County Road 25A in Troy, offers a completely free, traditional Thanksgiving meal. This year’s community feast will be served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 28.

The first Thanksgiving meal was served in his first local restaurant located in the former Days Inn at I-75 and West Main Street in Troy. The following year, on Nov. 11, 1995, fire swept through the motel and took the restaurant with it.

The fire didn’t halt the meal, though. With the support of customers, employees and others, the free dinner was served at the former Moose Lodge downtown. Pelayo said the meal is a way of fulfilling a vow he made many years ago to support the community.

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"He wants to give back. We really want to reach the people who have a need," said Judy Rose, who is Pelayo's "American mom" and long-time business manager. "That is our big concern, but we need to impress on customers and the community that this is a community dinner. ... You see these familiar faces, and you know they know what to do. We serve people as if they were at our home. We want them to sit at the table and be served."

Pelayo came to the Dayton area to open his restaurant in Troy in 1994. His adopted family, including mother, sister and nephews, live in Troy. The rest of Pelayo’s family is in the Pacific Northwest and in Mexico.

After the community meal is over, leftover food goes to local soup kitchens, Pelayo said.

Ruben Pelayo is the Daytonian of the Week on this Thanksgiving week.

🦃 When did you first decide that giving back in a big way was going to be a part of your restaurant? 

“I had watched my mother, Teresa, feed the community one day a year, after saving money to buy a pig to feed people. Watching this model of giving, in 1994, I did my first free Community Thanksgiving Dinner.”

🦃Did you ever expect the Thanksgiving dinner to become this big of a tradition 25 years later? 

“There was never a set goal of time. I plan on doing it as long as I have a restaurant.”

🦃 Do you think this 2019 Thanksgiving feels any more significant to you or your community after the year of hardships Dayton has faced this year?

“It’s more significant to the community than to me, as I wish to keep my promise. Maybe the 50th year will feel more significant.”

🦃What does it feel like at the end of community dinner every year when it's all said and done? Are you relieved, tired, emotional? 

“It leaves me with a feeling of satisfaction that it was a success.”

🦃 What do you love about calling Dayton home? 

“The Dayton area has been very good to me. Troy and the surrounding areas, and the support they give, allow me to do this every year. I couldn't do this without the help of all the volunteers and the financial support I receive. I am so very thankful for the support I have from the Miami Valley area.”

This year’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner will include turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls and pumpkin pie. There will be no carry-outs or deliveries. For more information, call 937-339-2100 or visit

The Feast by the numbers: 

-Turkeys: 150

-Green beans: 180 gallons

-Gravy: 75 gallons

-Mashed potatoes: 750 pounds

-Sweet potatoes: 500 pounds

-Dressing: 100 gallons

-Cranberry sauce: 50 gallons

-Pumpkin pies: 250

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