On Saturday Joe Marini, aka Chicken Joe, was caught giving back. Again.
Many people know Marini for his generosity to non profits and schools in town, but not everyone knows the extent of his giving.
Every year on Thanksgiving he and his crew of 40 volunteers head to Cornerstone Community Church in Norwalk where they cook and serve a meal to 350 people.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t cook there this year,” Marini said, referring to the impact of the pandemic. “Instead we filled microwavable containers to create 407 bags of food! Every bag consisted of food for two people.”
The meals included turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, gravy, cranberry sauce, water, apple pie, and a variety of snacks – all in microwave containers.
Marini, who has worked with Joe Kaliko over the years, said Kaliko raised significant funds for the effort.
“We needed about $2,600 to do this job and Joe Kaliko was a big help,” Marini said, adding that businesses in Norwalk donated food, including Stew Leonard’s who donated 30 turkeys.
“It was a bunch of nice people who got together,” he said of his 40 volunteers. “They tried to congratulate me – I said this is not about Joe Marini or Chicken Joe’s. This is about everyone getting together to get it done.”
“A lot of people helped out,” he said. “My workers chipped in. It’s very important when people donate their time. That’s the key. It was a challenge, but we got it done and a lot of people got to eat.”
“I said I hope we never have to do this again,” he said, noting that the preparation for 407 individually packed servings of food was immense and he put in 63 hours over three days himself. “I’d rather go in with my 40 people to take over the kitchen, cook, serve in two sittings. We hope to get back to that.”
While the pandemic has put a damper on Marini’s Chicken Joe business, idling his food truck and all but shutting down his catering operation, he is optimistic.
“We’re hurting, but we’ll get through this,” he said. “Of all the years – if you can put a smile on someone’s face, it’s got to be done.”
Toward that end, Marini had another idea.
“With this pandemic, I started growing my beard,” he said. “I grew my hair and beard. My wife is a hair dresser, and I had her bleach it. It’s completely white. I look like Santa now.”
His similarity to Santa gave him the idea of going up on the roof of Chicken Joe’s dressed as Santa on Saturday. The idea was the perfect Covid-safe plan – his rooftop perch provided the ultimate social distance and he didn’t need a mask.
As Marini waved and cars honked their horns, two masked elves on the ground gave out candy canes. Afterward, Marini drove through the neighborhoods beeping horn and waving.
And while the pandemic has impacted his food truck, which was a constant presence at GHS during sporting events, and shut down his catering operations, Marini’s tiny store is as busy as ever.
“We really appreciate all our customers,” he said. “We ask people call their orders in.”
The store is set up for safety, only 3-4 people are allowed in at a time, and here is one way in and one way out. Also Marini installed a glass partition and customers must wear masks.
Chicken Joe’s is located at 231 E Putnam Ave, Cos Cob, CT 06807. tel. 203 861-0075.