Ignacio Martinez had a lot to be thankful for last week, and showed his gratitude in a grand way.
The owner of Don Delfis Pancake House in Farragut opened his doors on Thanksgiving, and served traditional turkey and ham meals free of charge.
Martinez, whose business has been open along West End Avenue for nearly a year, said he wanted to “give something back” to his customers.
“I’ve got to show appreciation to my customers, and show them I am here for them,” he said of the luncheon, which he served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. “When the community gives you something, you give back.”
Martinez placed a sign outside the restaurant, advertising the upcoming free feast, and word of mouth also brought in customers who were delighted with the gesture, as nearly 100 had visited the restaurant within the first two hours.
“He is so thoughtful to be giving back like this,” said Nellie DeBruycker, who was dining with her daughter, Connie DeBruycker.
“It is very unusual — you don’t hear of it.”
“I have never heard of a restaurant actually doing that,” agreed Bobbi Strote, who had Thanksgiving lunch with her husband and son.
Bobbi said she and her husband, Dale Strote, are regular customers of the eatery, and she was amazed at Martinez’s generosity.
“He is really thinking about the real reason behind Thanksgiving, and is bringing people together for just the right reasons,” she said.
Don Delfis has had very steady business since opening last December, serving primarily a breakfast menu heavy on skillet meals, omelets and, of course, pancakes.
“I try to serve whatever people like to eat,” Martinez said. “It is always the customer who has the last word.”
He said the pancake house concept seemed to be a good one for the Farragut area, as his only local competition is Cracker Barrel, First Watch and IHOP.
“Now I have customers who have stopped going to those places,” he said.
Martinez, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1979, said all the recipes are his own, honed from years spent working in Greek restaurants.
He left that business in 2002 and started working as an independent contractor with FedEx. But he did not lose a yearning to open his own restaurant.
“It was always my dream to have a little place,” Martinez said.
He finally saw an opportunity to do just that after a friend told him the Knoxville area is “a great place to open a restaurant.” Even though he lived in Indiana, Martinez took the suggestion to heart, and began scouting out options.
Martinez said he chose to open a restaurant some distance from Indiana “because I would be competing with someone I know.”
He said he chose the West End location partly because it was set back from Knoxville’s main thoroughfare and had a traffic light just down from the restaurant.
“I saw more places on Kingston Pike [that were potential restaurant locations], but I put the safety of my customers first. I didn’t want anyone to have a collision coming in or out of the parking lot,” and onto the busy street, he said.
Martinez now has an apartment locally, and travels weekly between Knoxville and Indiana, where he still maintains his work with FedEx.
He has two daughters and five sons. One of five sons, Marco, helps his father with the restaurant operations.
Martinez certainly has cultivated quite a following for Don Delfis.
“He always makes you feel so welcome,” Connie DeBruycker said.
“He’s always hugging on us and kissing on us,” Nellie DeBruycker added. “He is a great friend.”
Jo Ann Ross also counts Martinez as a friend, and said it was “wonderful” that he offered the Thanksgiving meal free of charge.
“I just found out about it the other day, when I was having breakfast [here],” she said. “It was really great, because I have a son in a wheelchair, and it is difficult for him to come up the stairs at my house.”
Martinez already is planning for next Thanksgiving, which he hopes will be an even larger event for his customers, both old and new.
“I have had some new customers, just today,” he said.