Thursday, November 25, 2010
Slice of generosity for the needy
November 23. 2010
Oak Park -- This Thanksgiving promises to be a better one, not only for the needy and hungry who come to Rrok Dedvukaj's restaurant for a free Thanksgiving-style meal on Wednesday, but also for Dedvukaj himself. Known to family, friends and customers as "Rocky," Dedvukaj took a break from operating his three Metro Detroit restaurants in 2006 and went to visit his homeland of Montenegro. On the eve of a parliamentary election that August, the social activist was among 12 ethnic Albanians arrested and accused of plotting a rebellion to establish an Albanian autonomous region within the Adriatic country.
Dedvukaj, who had lived in America since the age of 9, spent three years in prison, where he was beaten and tortured. The case drew international criticism, and human rights groups demanded that Montenegro deal with the issue.
In September 2009, Dedvukaj returned to the United States after his release. He lost everything during those years, including his three restaurants.
In February, with the help of some friends, he opened the Royal Grill restaurant in Oak Park at 22110 Coolidge Highway, at Nine Mile.
He works there six days a week, taking care of customers alongside two sons and his wife and a small staff of waitresses.
Instead of feeling bitter and angry about his experience, Dedvukaj is slowly returning to his old life before he left — the life that included helping the less fortunate.
As a gift to the community, he is serving free meals starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday and until 4 p.m. or whenever the food runs out.
The meal — turkey or ham and all sides and a drink — is available to those in need who cannot afford to pay. Those who can pay are asked to make donations that will go to Oak Park Youth Assistance.
"My customers come in and keep me in business, right? It's a way of saying thank you to them and giving the needy a chance to eat in a restaurant. I know how it feels to have an empty stomach," he said.
Before his three years of imprisonment in Montenegro, Dedvukaj fed the needy at his three restaurants in Pontiac, Detroit and Warren, offering free holiday meals to the poor and collecting donations for a Sept. 11 firefighters fund.
He raised $15,000 over three years.
He knows he returned a changed man. Dedvukaj said it took him several months to adjust to life again at home in Troy.
"I had a hard time in prison. I needed a few months to see where I am and where I belong. Those three years took a lot out of me," he said.
Waitress Sally Sylvester, who alerted the media to Dedvukaj's generosity, said the 52-year-old had inspired her with his dedication to the community and the ideal of helping others in need. Police officers and court officials, who are frequent diners at Royal Grill, are volunteering Wednesday to act as servers for the day.
"It is costing him so much to do this, but that is who Rocky is," said Sylvester, a waitress there since July. "He works to make a difference for people — not just political but personal, too."
Posted by Conference Organizer at 12:36 AM