One day a year, scores of Norma’s Café employees file into the restaurant, and assume their positions as if rolling out from a clown car, says owner Ed Murph, describing the prelude to handing out thousands of free Thanksgiving meals. “It’s very well orchestrated,” he says. Since 1988 the Oak Cliff establishment has been making the holiday a little brighter for neighbors less fortunate, such as the economically disadvantaged, disabled shut-ins and the elderly. “I was looking for something that would lift people’s spirits,” Murph says. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Norma’s will give away freshly made meals — turkey with giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, peas, tossed salad and a roll. Last year the restaurant served more than 3,400 meals. “What I found out real quick was, we just need to open the doors, and people will come,” Murph says. He becomes emotional recalling stories of folks who stopped in for a free meal and left with a newfound joy for life — such as the Native American father from a reservation who didn’t have the proper ID to visit his son in jail. He found his way to Norma’s, and expressed his gratitude through song. “You never know whose life you’ve touched,” Murph says. One year he offered to discontinue the tradition so his staff could be home with their families for Thanksgiving. “They said, ‘You can quit, but we’re going to keep doing it.’ It’s their willingness to give up their time to make this happen.” During the event, Norma’s will accept donations to help fund its Christmas toy drive for neighborhood children. The restaurant is now taking orders for its general Thanksgiving menu, which includes dinners that serve up to 16 people with all the staples — turkey, gravy, dressing, vegetables, cranberry sauce and the restaurant’s famous “mile-high pies”.

Norma’s Café

Davis & Winnetka

Three more spots for holiday grub:

1 Dallas Tortilla & Tamale Factory
For those who crave tamales instead of turkey on Thanksgiving, this family owned establishment serves up traditional and contemporary versions of the Mexican dish.
Eighth & Marsalis

2 Smoke
The accolades have piled up for this gourmet barbecue joint, which offers
a special Thanksgiving feast.
Sylvan & Fort Worth Avenue

3 Hula Hotties Café & Bakery

Here, you can indulge in sweeter things, such as butterscotch pecan pie  and the restaurant’s new line of sweet potato cupcakes.
Davis & Madison