Rick Moonen is used to being the boss in top restaurants, but on Thursday night the Las Vegas chef helped toss salad and scoop potatoes for veterans.
Moonen, who operated his two restaurants at The Shoppes at Mandalay Place for 14 years and is looking to create an off-Strip restaurant, joined others in serving a community dinner at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10047 just outside of North Las Vegas on Thursday night. The post starting holding weekly community dinners for veterans who were at least 60 years old in October, said the dinner project’s manager, Mikey Kelly.
The dinners are hosted with Three Square food bank to help seniors who don’t have consistent access to adequate food, especially those living near the post in the far northeast valley, which is considered a food desert, Kelly said.
Chef Brian Wollin, who volunteers his time making food at Post 10047 nearly every day, said Moonen joining others at the dinner was a big deal for the organization.
"It’s huge having people like chef Moonen here,” he said before joking with the well-known chef. "Just because any kind of publicity from someone as notorious as him is huge for us.”
Moonen didn’t make the food Thursday night — that was left to Wollin. But he and his wife, Roni Moonen, did help plate everyone’s dinners. He said it was his first time helping out at the community dinner.
"We were going to do it around Thanksgiving but that didn’t work out, so I said, ‘Oh, let’s do something around Christmas,’” he said.
The chef’s father was a paratrooper in World War II, and Moonen said it was an honor helping other veterans.
"It feels good to be able to give to people that helped us be who we are today,” Moonen said.
"I was hungry,” he said with a smile. "I got food to cook. I just wanted to see what it was all about.”
Lou Bardy spoke softly while Christmas music echoed through the room Thursday night. The 86-year-old Army veteran said he’s been an active member of the VFW since 1974, and he’s now a part of another Las Vegas post. But the dinners at Post 10047 save him time from cooking.
"I’m just coming out to visit with my veteran friends,” he said.
Bardy served from 1949 to 1952, during the Korean War. His veteran friends are scarce now, and he said his squad members stopped holding reunions a few years ago because too many people had died.
"There’s not many of us left,” he said of the Korean War veterans.
While the 10047 post’s dinners give Bardy a chance to meet new people, he likes the organization because it’s "unusual” from other posts, and not just for the good food, he said.
"They always remember your name,” he said. "Walk in and they greet you, and they got a place for you here.”
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