On any given day, the Bohlsen Restaurant Group has a lot to be thankful for. Their restaurants—from Prime in Huntington to Tellers in Islip—are always listed among Long Island’s best; their hospitality is revered and their food and beverage programs are beloved.
On Thanksgiving, however, their gratitude turns outward: toward the heroes who, in a way, have made it all possible.
That’s when Monsoon, Bohlsen’s critically acclaimed Pan-Asian restaurant in Babylon, closes its doors to paying customers and welcomes veterans and their families to enjoy a gratis Thanksgiving feast instead.
“Our general manager had this idea to do it about five years ago,” says Michael Bohlsen, co-founder of BRG. “And my thinking has always been to hire people smarter and better than myself and get out of the way. So that’s what I did. We served 100 or so people the first year. Last year, four years into it, 150 to 180 veterans and their families came. We’re hoping to double that this year.”
And they will, thanks to Bohlsen’s tenacity. Because, perhaps surprisingly for a restaurant group that, without fail, sells out each of its eateries every holiday, finding veterans to serve on Thanksgiving has not always been easy. Bohlsen and his team initially had to work to find and reach them.
“Not everyone is open to having a Thanksgiving dinner donated to them,” says Bohlsen. “For warriors, especially, pride gets in the way a little bit. So we had to put a lot of work into getting people to come in. We worked with Long Island veteran groups. We put ads in the paper and advertised over social media. And now we get veterans from as far back as World War II and as recent as the Iraq wars. It’s more amazing for us than it is for them.”
Of course, Bohlsen is being characteristically humble. The Thanksgiving feast that veterans and their families get to enjoy at Monsoon is nothing short of extraordinary. Each family gets their own table atop which they find a full turkey dinner complete with all the fixings, including everyone’s favorites: biscuits, stuffing, mashed potatoes. Each year, more than a few guests have to unbutton their uniforms to make room for a decadent, abundant dessert.
“We really roll out the red carpet,” says Bohlsen. “The most fun for us, though, is going around and talking to the veterans and hearing their stories. They have wonderful stories to tell. And, I imagine, as you get older, you have these stories that you want or need to tell, so we do a lot of listening.”
Listening is something the Bohlsen Restaurant Group does exceptionally well. To them, their primary job is not just to feed locals but to serve them and their communities as well. That’s why, this year, Bohlsen is partnering with Long Island Cares, an organization that assists over 1,000 veterans each month, to reach even more people in need. Additionally, Bohlsen has partnered with Main Street Meats, a longtime BRG partner, to donate turkeys to local food pantries. Together they plan to donate enough for 100 local families to have turkey this Thanksgiving.
The BRG team also regularly partners with environmental organizations, such as Keep Islip Clean, Seatuck and AMSC to organize beach cleanups after banning plastic straws from all of their restaurants, to protect wildlife and clean the water they—and we—all depend on.
“We’re always looking for new ways to give back,” says Bohlsen, “and our Thanksgiving with the veterans is one of our favorite ways to do that. But make no mistake, we get more out of it than they do. They think we’re giving something to them, but whether they know it or not, the opportunity to serve them is really the biggest gift to us.”