Interview with SJU '93 Alum, Joe Radaich

Our featured alum this semester is Joe Radaich, SJU '93. The owner of a restaurant/sports bar in Southeast Minneapolis, Joe decided to celebrate the holiday spirit a little differently this season. He organized and hosted a community dinner at his restaurant on Christmas Eve 2008. The event, attended by about 100 people, was a resounding success. Even Joe was surprised at the number of volunteers who showed up to help him and the number of guests they served. In the following interview, Joe talks about the challenges and the joys of organizing the dinner.

 1.  What was the impetus behind your decision to sponsor a community meal on Christmas Eve?   

     I had been thinking of doing this for quite a few years, but it seemed daunting, and I always seemed to have family obligations.  This year, my Dad called me and floated the idea.  He also said he and my Mom would help.  That took care of my two major concerns. I would encourage anyone who is thinking of volunteering during the holidays to include family members. It eliminates the schedule conflicts and gives you an activity to share, besides just eating.

 2.   How did you advertise the dinner and find volunteers to help you? 

    I posted fliers in neighborhood businesses and churches, promoted the event to my friends on Facebook, sent press releases to our community newspaper, e-mailed my neighborhood organization, and hung a banner on the exterior of my building. I also had fliers distributed at the Basilica of St. Mary.  They have a variety of outreach programs and agreed to help me promote my event.

 4.   What kind of support did you get from the community?

   Overwhelming.  Fifteen people volunteered to help prepare the meal, twenty people brought desserts, and five donated cash.  Some of the money & desserts came in unannounced--on Christmas Eve.

 5.   How did you estimate the amount of food you would need? What did you serve?

   We had no way of knowing how many guests to expect.  We made food for 150 people and prayed it would be sufficient.  The meat was the greatest challenge because it had to be done ahead.  Everything else came together very quickly. 

   We served mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, a vegetable tossed salad, baked chicken, porketta (spicy fennel pork roast), and cranberry sauce. We also served a variety of homemade desserts-all donated. There were homemade Christmas cookies & bars, several kinds of pies, brownies, and a couple of cakes.

   We wanted to serve turkey, but couldn't get any donated.  The chicken was donated by GoldNPlump in St. Cloud, the vegetables for the salad were donated by Go-Fresh and Pre-Cut of Minneapolis, and the porketta was donated by Larry Majewski of Fred's IGA in Nashwauk, MN.  Larry is a friend of the family.

 6.   Who were you hoping would attend?  Were there any surprises? 

   We promoted the event as a Community Holiday Meal, with the idea that we would draw people who were alone, or experiencing tough times, or people who simply wanted to gather with their neighbors.

   What stood out for me was the number of families with small children who attended, and also the number of people who were alone on the Holiday.  It was gratifying to provide this opportunity for them.

 7.    What was the response of your community/neighborhood? Your volunteers?

   The volunteers had a great time, and many are looking forward to doing this again next year. Community/neighborhood response was very positive. They provided most of the unexpected cash donations.

 8.    What was the most unexpected thing that happened?

    A reporter from FOX 9 showed up-unannounced. He took me by surprise and some of his questions irritated me.  He asked me, "What do you get out of this event, as a business owner?" - or something like that. I think he was looking for one of those canned responses like, "It's important for businesses to give back to the community."  But I didn't do this as a business owner. I did it as a member of my community. That was an awkward moment.