by LAURA HAYES
For Vinnie Mustafoski, the people who walk through the door of his restaurant the Winona Family Restaurant are more than customers — they’re family members. “Everybody is equal to us. It doesn’t matter if they spend $1 or $100. To me everyone is the same and they’re all family,” Mustafoski said.
Every year on Thanksgiving, Mustafoski and his staff work to give back to that family by offering a free Thanksgiving meal. Last year, they served 485 people and this year he plans on serving even more. “The more I serve the happier I will be,” Mustafoski said. “It’s the only day where people sit under a table and thank God like, ‘Hey, we’re healthy. We have healthy families. We have healthy kids. We have a healthy country.’ That’s the only day out of 365 days that we sit with our families.”
When Mustafoski and his family moved to Winona in 2013 and started the restaurant, he said that the community accepted them like family members. Originally from Macedonia, Mustafoski came to the United States in 2001. His wife was studying in Alaska, and he lived there for eight years before moving to Wisconsin. “The cold got old. It’s cold here too, but at least there are four seasons,” he joked.
Mustafoski and his family own around 30 restaurants around the country of similar names. “This country is built by foreigners. We came for a good cause — the American Dream. We appreciate anything and everything. Every morning we wake up and say, ‘God bless America,’” Mustafoski said. “All of these good things come from the communities that support us.”
Mustafoski said that that was how his family was raised — work hard, respect the people that help, and return the favor. All of the restaurants that Mustafoski’s family owns offer free Thanksgiving meals to their customers. Giving back is second nature for Mustafoski and his staff, from donating a day’s worth of sales to the wife of a Wisconsin police officer who was shot to donating food to a local church to donating funds to help local college students building a church in New Mexico. Mustafoski said that it’s a philosophy that he’s tried to pass on to his kids.
“Here there is no owner. We’re all workers. I’m just the only one pays the bills,” Mustafoski joked.
Last year, he remembered a family of around 12 people who ended up eating their Thanksgiving meal after being detoured because of the snow. One of the men went to the register to pay for the meal. “He asked, ‘How much do I owe you for that table?’ And I said, ‘You don’t owe me anything,’” Mustafoski recalled.
The man, he remembered, was shocked. The family ended up leaving a $100 tip for the waitress. “It made the waitress happy and it made the family happy. That day a lot of good things happened,” he said.
On Thanksgiving, the Winona Family Restaurant will serve a free meal from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will also serve their regular menu from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. The free meal includes turkey, salad, soup, pie, and pop.