Barrel of blessings

KAPAA — Mike and Anne Pierce wouldn’t spend their holiday any other way.

“It’s what we love to do,” said Mike, standing next to 50-gallon barrel smokers chock full of turkeys, hams and beef briskets.

On Thursday, like every Christmas for the last five years, the Pierce family hosted a free Christmas dinner at their Kapaa eatery Chicken in A Barrel, for anyone and everyone looking for a delicious feast.

“We’re the ones that get blessed. They think they are,” Mike said of the people stopping by for food, “but we are.”

Most of Thursday’s food — hundreds of pound of it — was prepared in advance. However, to draw in passersby, Pierce’s son-in-law Patrick Pepper, the self described “turkey guy,” likes to get a steady stream of barbecue smoke billowing out onto Kuhio Highway.

“That’s a man’s perfume right there, or a women’s perfume,” he laughed after putting flames to a half dozen beef briskets, as people looked on with hungry eyes.

While the Pierces host the event, they get plenty of help. So much help this year, in fact, that Pepper said the family had to take a step back to allow others an opportunity to chip in.

“It’s just crazy,” he said of the support, which came in the form donated food, gifts and time. “Get in and share, that’s part of the fun.”

One volunteer was Fort Myers, Florida resident Glenn Hedman, who read about the event in the newspaper and wanted to contribute.

“It’s great,” he said. “It’s a good blessing for everyone.”

In addition to meeting locals and making new friends, Hedman said he enjoyed a break from being in his hotel and doing tourist activities.

“It’s good for me,” he said, sitting back so others could get their plates first.

Michelle Green, of Wasilla, Alaska, said she had lunch at Chicken in A Barrel earlier in the week. She enjoyed it so much she wanted to make sure her husband had an opportunity to try it. So she brought him Thursday, unaware that lunch would be on the house.

“We were shocked,” she said of finding out the Pierce family was doing all this out of the goodness of their hearts.

“It’s amazing, very giving.”

While some helped man the barbecue and carve the meat, other volunteers dished out stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, pumpkin pie and cookies. Behind the restaurant, Anne Pierce let children select a gift from large bags.

“It’s a group effort,” said Mike and Anne’s daughter, Nicole Pepper.

By 3:30 p.m., the Pierces had divvied out 600 meals, according to Patrick.

“Felt like 6,000,” he said.

Originally from the foothills of California, Mike Pierce started smoke barbecuing meat in large drums, or barrels, more than 30 years ago. The idea for opening his own business on Kauai dates back to when he used to barbecue for church gatherings at Black Pot Beach in Hanalei.

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