SOCIAL CIRCLE - Thanksgiving is a very special day to the Blue Willow Inn, and this year, the restaurant made it even more special, hopefully for years to come.
In 1991, Louis and Billie Van Dyke opened the restaurant and gift shop on Thanksgiving Day.
"I would not recommend it," Louis Van Dyke said about opening on such a busy day. "But it was one of those things where you set a deadline, and we wanted to keep it."
He said everything that could have gone wrong did, but the restaurant managed to serve quite a few customers that day. He decided to have the restaurant open on Thanksgiving Day every year thereafter.
"The whole theme of the Blue Willow is the Old South, like grandma used to do," he said. "And grandma always has Thanksgiving."
For the last few years, the restaurant has handed out a pamphlet on the history of Thanksgiving, but Van Dyke wanted to take it a step further this year.
On Friday, an exhibit that is a life-size replica of the country's first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Mass., was erected.
The exhibit, which is located under a white tent in front of the restaurant's gift shop, will be up until Sunday and includes traditional Thanksgiving food items, such as turkey, venison, potatoes, squash and nuts.
"We have real cornbread and bread pudding; we're also getting a lobster," Van Dyke said. "Of course, the real stuff changes every day."
The exhibit also includes traditional items the first Thanksgiving guests would have possessed, such as a wheelbarrow, corn husks, a Bible and eating utensils, many loaned from Joseph Hurt Studio, a museum in Stone Mountain that will have items in the Blue Willow's museum that will open in April.
Van Dyke said next year he wants to expand the meal and items on display. Hopefully, he said, the exhibit will be in a real wooden building resembling a traditional cottage rather than a tent.
"We will spend the year accumulating things," he said. "Also, we are going to work with a local taxidermist to get such things as a wild turkey that we can hang from its feet, so it will look like a hunter brought it in from a fresh kill. Little things like that add interest."
Van Dyke said he wants families to have fun at the exhibit and, at the same time, learn about the nation's history.
"It's just to share with customers and friends and neighbors; we want them to not only read about it, but look at it and appreciate what it would have been like," he said. "It's not a big statement, but it's fun doing things like this because it gives us a chance to do something different."
Van Dyke said Thanksgiving Day is one of the two busiest days for the restaurant - the other being Mother's Day.
"We still have many customers who come back every Thanksgiving or every couple of years," he said. "We get a lot of regular Thanksgiving attendants."
And some years, the restaurant sees some new faces.
Van Dyke said last Thanksgiving, a California woman flew in on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to pick up a carry-out order to take back to her family in California.
"She flew from California to Atlanta because her niece lived in Georgia," he said. "She brought in several containers to put food in and a container to keep it fresh in, and she left for the airport and flew back."
Those who decide to eat in the restaurant on Thanksgiving Day get to enjoy the "biggest buffet" served all year, Van Dyke said.
"It's a traditional Thanksgiving buffet, and it's the most varied," he said. "We will come in at 2 a.m. with the first shift."
He said the staff started making the desserts for today's meal several days in advance.
The restaurant is booked for today - as it has been for about six weeks - and Van Dyke said he expects to serve about 1,500 people.
"We'll serve about 30 to 35 tom turkeys, which is one of six meats," Van Dyke said.
He said guests who want to enjoy the new exhibit this week and have a meal at the same time should call ahead to make reservations, as this time of year is the restaurant's busy season.
Although the creation of a new parking lot has limited parking for the past few days, Van Dyke said the new paved lot will be open starting today.
The lot is part of the project for its Blue Willow Village, which is scheduled to open in mid-April. The village includes a Creation and Natural History Museum and several village shops.
Michelle Floyd can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: If you go
· What: Blue Willow Inn Thanksgiving
· When: Today through Sunday
· Where: Blue Willow Inn, Ga. Highway 11, Social Circle
· Phone: 770-464-2131
· Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 5 to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 5 to 9 p.m., Friday; 4:30 to 9 p.m., Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday
· More information: www.bluewillowinn.com