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The Penny Pub to host free Thanksgiving, inspired by customers

Jill Schombs, a bartender at The Penny Pub

Jill Schombs, a bartender at The Penny Pub in Bay Shore, on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

It doesn’t take a village to host Thanksgiving, but it can take a village bar.

This Thanksgiving, The Penny Pub in Bay Shore will be opening at 3 p.m. to host a free dinner for regular customers and anyone else who might want to stop by.

When bartender Jill Schombs found out a few weeks ago that some of her regulars didn’t have holiday plans, she asked owner Mike McElwee whether he would consider opening early. She offered to cook.

“The customers, they’re like family,” said Schombs, 35, of Bay Shore. “I see them every day.”

McElwee agreed, and as word got out, regular customers started offering to make sides and desserts. The food will be served buffet style for free.

“We thought it was kind of cool,” McElwee said. The pub would normally open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

According to McElwee, one of the cooks is coming in early to help heat up some of the food that mostly will be made in advance.

McElwee also added his own touch, making the event open to first responders who are in need of a cup of coffee or a quick bite during the holiday.

Schombs has been working at the Penny Pub for about 2 1⁄2 years, but some of the regulars have been frequenting the bar for more than 15 years, she said.

Schombs will attend her own family dinner later in the evening. She said she normally helps her dad cook, but this year he is cooking with her aunt so she has the time to host the Penny Pub dinner.

Few of the pub’s customers were shocked that Schombs would be willing to sacrifice her time.

“I’m not surprised Jill’s doing this just because she loves her regulars so much,” said Alyssa Lori, 36, of Bethpage, who can’t attend Thanksgiving at the bar but plans to send baked goods. Lori said Schombs’ regulars will stop in just to say hello even if they aren’t getting anything to drink.

John Spillett, 55, of North Babylon, gets a turkey every year from his workplace, EnviroScience. This year, instead of keeping it or giving it to a local church, it will be the main course at the pub’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“Jill is always doing stuff like this,” Spillett said. “She’s truly a special person.”

Last month, Schombs hosted a fundraiser for a Queens-based animal rescue group at the bar when she threw an 11th birthday party for Spillett’s goldendoodle, Bongo. The event raised more than $800.

Cathy Brownrigg, a recent retiree from Islip, plans to drop off a few dishes for the event, which she said means a lot more to some people than just a free meal.

“Nobody wants to admit this was the only place they had to go,” Brownrigg said. “To some people, it means everything.”

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