When he was growing up, John Akkaya, owner of Mountain View’s Ristorante Don Giovanni, made a pledge to himself, and he has upheld it for a good portion of his life. There was a restaurant in the area of Chicago where he lived in that gave out food on Thanksgiving, and he made use of the service more than once.

“I know the feeling of not having many places to go,” says Akkaya. “When I was a young man, I made a pledge that I would do the same thing if I ever owned a restaurant.”

With his first restaurant Cafe Figaro in Burlingame and Ristorante Don Giovanni, Akkaya has served a free Thanksgiving meal every year for the last 24 years, complete with turkey, gravy, yams, corn and other holiday staples. Besides the fact that he pledged to himself many years ago, Akkaya says that he does it to remind himself of the reason for the season.

“Thanksgiving is a very commercialized holiday, and people just expect things and take them for granted,” he says. “Giving is in the name, its supposed to be a traditional holiday about family appreciation, and I look at this community and they’re my family.”

The staff at Don Giovanni take three to four days to prep for Thanksgiving service, largely due to the amount of people that show up, Akkaya says.

“We do about 1,500 dinners and it is growing every year,” he says. “Luckily the week before Thanksgiving is slower, so it makes it easier, but I really have to thank my people, my staff, because they put in a lot of extra time, 120 percent.”

This year stands out for Akkaya because his brother will be visiting from Germany for the holidays. He says his brother, who entertains the idea of visiting every year, has been in poor health lately so it has more of an impact.

“He always wants to come see me, so I’m dedicating it to him this year,” says Akkaya. “This year is very special for me.”

He says there are also regular customers who come every year as their own tradition, and some even try to pay.

“I had a regular of mine try to call for delivery, and I told him he would have to come in and pick it up. He said ‘okay’, and when he came in he tried to pay. I told him no, that we weren’t taking money today.”

Akkaya says sticking to a promise he made to himself, and doing things along the lines of being generous, are what the holidays are about to him.

“I want to reach more people, even if its just a few that have nowhere to go and need somewhere,” he says. “If everybody gave once a year to the community, we all have something to share, we’d be good. That’s why I do this.”