Thanksgiving dinner is a meal intended to express gratitude to the people who make life joyful, at home and in the community. But the firefighters at Arlington's station six are thankful throughout the year for one special meal each week and for the pair of restaurateurs just up the street who work to prepare it.
"They call us at the station around 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday each week to tell us dinner is served," said firefighter John Gaugh. "It's really great for us."
Since the terrorist attack on the Pentagon in 2001, Kyle and Juli Clifford, the owners of Café Café — at 5723 on Lee Highway — have prepared a weekly gourmet meal to give thanks to the firefighters who responded to the emergency calls that day. The meals, Kyle said, are a way of paying them back for the sacrifices they've made and the on-going work these local firefighters do in the community.
"They'd been through so much and we just wanted to do something good for them," he said. "We get these calls from different charities and stuff all the time but you never know how much of that actually makes it to the guys working in the trenches.”
The Cliffords go to work early each week to make certain the fire station's dinner is finished on time and with all the finishing touches of a sit-down dinner.
"They aren't just eating hamburgers and hot dogs," Juli Clifford said. "We make sure they eat right."
And the menu proves it. Recent dinners at the fire station have included shanks of lamb, a popular dish in the winter according to Kyle, horseradish encrusted salmon and pecan encrusted chicken.
"A while back, we started trying to come up with things we could cut from our budget to save money but we just didn't want to cut the meals for the fire station," Kyle said. "They deserve it and it's something that makes us feel good too."
Once they get the call, the firefighters, in true first responder fashion, rush to the café to bring dinner back.
"It is always greatly appreciated," said Gaugh, speaking on behalf of his station, which serves both western Arlington and parts of East Falls Church. "It saves us a lot of trouble. We don't have to go out and buy food. We don't have to cook. They make us really great stuff. And they just volunteered to do it. They're very nice people."
The Cliffords have run Café Café for more than three years and they've always gotten involved with the people in their neighborhood, the same people who have become the restaurant's regular customers as a result.
Kyle Clifford recalled one example of an elderly couple snowed-in last year who called the restaurant several times while it was closed.
"We almost never close in bad weather because we don't live far away, but one day the snow was just so high we thought nobody would want to eat out," Kyle said.
That night, he checked the restaurant's answering machine from home to find at least six messages from the couple, who lived nearby and couldn't get out to a grocery store.
"I called them back and told them we'd closed for the day and then they said that there wasn't any food in their house," Kyle said. "I told them I could give them a ride to the store."
After wading through snow to their SUV, Kyle and Juli Clifford drove to the couple's home and drove them over an ice-covered road to get food.
"When we got them back to the house, we saw that the ploughs had come through and covered up their driveway with a snow bank. I couldn't see exactly where it was, so I just pressed the gas to get over the bank. We landed somewhere in their front yard."
The fire station has other plans for Thanksgiving, but the Cliffords will be back serving firefighters the following Wednesday like clockwork.