Skip to comments.America Supports You: Restaurant Owners Give Night Out to Recovering Troops
Posted on 08/20/2006 1:31:59 PM PDT by SandRat
WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2006 Over the past two and a half years, about 500 severely wounded servicemembers and their families have enjoyed 5,000 free dinners out on the town thanks to Hal Koster and Marty OBrien. Some of them have come to multiple dinners because some of them are here for years, Koster said Aug. 18, as he looked over the 60 or so guests dining on the rooftop of The Exchange restaurant here.
About 20 servicemembers, many in wheelchairs and prosthetics, family members and other guests dined overlooking a panoramic view of the U.S. Capitol, and the Washington and Jefferson monuments. Koster, a Vietnam veteran, moved among them like a kindly, white-haired grandfather.
These people have done a lot for us, he said. Theyre wonderful people, and its a pleasure to do this.
Koster and OBrien are former co-owners of Fran OBriens Stadium Steakhouse here. They launched the weekly dinners at their restaurant in October 2003 for wounded troops recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center, in nearby Bethesda, Md.
Since then, numerous volunteers, fellow veterans and other supporters have helped to continue the weekly dinners. Two peer visitors hand out dinner invitations to the patients, Koster said. Tim Mayer, a Department of Veterans Affairs employee, lost both his legs in Vietnam. Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew Lourake, who lost one leg above the knee in a motorcycle accident, continues to serve on active duty.
Theyve gone through training at Walter Reed to learn how to interact with the patients, Koster said. They go see the patients two or three times a week to see how theyre doing. They start giving invitations the day the guys hit the ward. It gives (patients) something to look forward to.
Doctors and nurses at the military hospitals also seek invitations for patients.
A doctor will call and say, Theres a patient here; I think he needs to get out. Would you please give him an invitation? Koster said. The nurses at Ward 58 (for traumatic brain injuries) will say, Theres a family here and their son or daughter cant come out yet, but the family needs a night out, would you please invite them.
Weve been doing this long enough now, he said, that most of the people at Walter Reed know about the dinners, so if they see a person they think really could benefit from a night out theyll give us a call and well give them an invitation.
Once they get an invitation servicemembers call a reservation line. They have to call in by Wednesday afternoon so we know how many buses to get, how much food to get, Koster said.
When Fran OBriens lease was cancelled and the restaurant closed in early May, the dinners literally became a moveable feast. We go from place to place, Koster said. The Italian ambassador hosted one. Were going to be at the former Taiwanese ambassadors residence next week. The Capitol Hill Club does one a month. The Hamilton Crown Plaza Hotel does one a couple of times a month or whenever we dont have a place.
Some host the dinners while others pay the bill, he noted. The Armed Forces Foundation, for example, sponsors dinners hosted once a month at the Capitol Hill Club. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne hosted one at the department a couple weeks ago; VA leaders sponsored that dinner.
A few months ago, sponsors paid for a dinner hosted here at the Exchange Restaurant, Koster said. Tonight, The Exchange is hosting and sponsoring the dinner -- theyre actually donating the dinners.
Taking a short break from excitedly running hither and yon feeding his guests oysters and prime rib, Exchange owner Jimmy Nicopoulos said he begged to have the opportunity to serve the wounded veterans. I just had to do it, he said.
A Washington, D.C., native whos moved no more than two blocks in 46 years, Nicopoulos said his brother was an airborne ranger who now works for the Defense Department in Europe. Thats as close to the military as I have had the privilege of being.
When government officials eating at The Exchange congratulated Nicopoulos for hosting the first dinner, he felt their praise was undeserved.
I didnt do anything, I was sponsored, he stressed. So I said Im going to do one myself so when they congratulate me I dont feel like an idiot. Now I can say, Yes, I did, and I thank you, and Im doing it again because it was cool. The next one I want to do burgers and sloppy joes -- something a little fun. Throw fries around, a couple pickles, cole slaw, something a little bit more picnicy.
Nicopoulos said its hard to find words to describe what occurs at the dinners.
Its so much fun, he said. To look at parents eyes when they see their kids a little bit happy -- a little bit meaning that theyre out of the hospital, theyre in a new environment and theres hope. Thats so satisfying.
It just feels good, he said. Its right. You cant describe it. Youve just got to feel it and then you walk along with a smile.
Not sure but this may be it:
1719 G Street NW (202) 393-4690
God bless all the folks making these dinners possible for our wounded heroes.
And our family is still boycotting Hilton.
Can I stay at a Sheraton?
Heroes helping heroes.
These people are wonderful. Please support them by stopping by thier place if in the area.
Has O'Brians found a new location yet?
For more information please contact: Jimmy Nicopoulos: (202) 393-4690
I sent Mr. Nicopoulos a thank-you e-mail. This is such a wonderful thing to do, and he's doing it for all the right reasons.
We don't eat out much. We have a big green egg. ;-)
In a car dealership the other day, I saw Support Our Troops magnets proudly displayed.
I told them I was very pleased to see the support.
When one door closes..... Why donate we do a fund raiser here and have FR sponsor one?
God Bless the people who make this happen.
What a great report .
Bump to ya.
Ok.... How about we exchange donate for don't and see if that post makes more sense:") ?
CindyDawg, you made enough sense that I deleted my post I was composing along the same lines!
A FR-sponsored dinner for our troops makes a huge amount of sense -- and it would be a big plus for FR's image...
I'm retired on a fixed, limited income, but I'd gladly give up something to sponsor one troop's dinner!
With all the patriotic horsepower FR can muster, I don't see why this couldn't become a new form of FR 'activism'...
Count me in...
Count me in!!