Everywhere she looks, Linda Flores finds something she's thankful for: the loyalty and love of her four daughters, that her mother beat cancer four years ago, even that the walls of the restaurant space she rented to were already painted the perfect shades of pumpkin and cappuccino.
So it's fitting that the lifelong Pajaro Valley resident is the proprietor of a new restaurant where it's Thanksgiving every day.
Linda Flores opened the Turkey Boat in Pajaro in September and, Monday, the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture celebrated the accomplishment with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a certificate of recognition from .
Flores sat smiling through the entire event, though she took a hard fall Saturday and shattered her left kneecap. Surgery to repair the damage is scheduled for Tuesday.
"I'll be fine," she repeatedly reassured the well-wishers there to taste her turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes, then turned the conversation back to the Turkey Boat.
Flores dreamed of launching her own restaurant for 35 years. When asked why the grandmother waited so long, she smiled and replied "I had to raise my daughters."
Her youngest graduated from high school in June and three of her four girls—Tiffany, Samantha and Chelsea—work at the Turkey Boat. The fourth, Lynsday, is a student at CSU-Monterey Bay.
"This is for my daughters," said Flores. "Your kids can't inherit your job, so I had to create a legacy for them."
The girls seem to be just some of the many inspirations that motivate Flores.
Her mother, who lives down the street, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007. Monday, her mother was seated across the restaurant playing with a great-granddaughter.
"We rallied around her," Flores said. "What is so amazing to me is that I was able to accomplish this with her here to see it."
is tucked into an old storefront at 7 San Juan Rd. in Pajaro, just across the river from downtown Watsonville. It's the same spot where, years ago when it was a saloon, Flores's parents met. She happened on the space during her search for a restaurant location and fell in love with the atmosphere, especially those perfectly-hued walls.
"It called to me," she said.
The neighbors savor the aroma of roasting turkeys in the morning, Flores said, and already she has a steady following: Alejo's uncle lives nearby and comes in daily for a turkey boat; and, when she was rushed to the hospital for her knee injury last weekend, she got royal treatment the moment staff connected that she owns the Turkey Boat.
Of course, it's hard work keeping this boat afloat.
Flores continues to work 40 hours a week at Valley Packing. That means getting to the restaurant at 4:30 a.m. to put 3-5 turkeys in the oven and prep the stuffing and soup. Her daughters run the eatery during the day, then Flores returns in the late afternoon to bake bread for the following day.
She attempts to tie everything together at the restaurant. The roast turkey is used in all the dishes and yesterday's bread is today's stuffing. The restaurant serves turkey-and-gravy meals, but also tasty twists on turkey, like wraps and enchiladas.
The Turkey Boat is open Monday-Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and they're looking into weekend hours soon. The restaurant is cash-only, so come with a few dollars in your pocket. The menu is all $10 and under, and Flores promises you'll be served enough to have leftovers the next day.
"So far, my dream has come true," Flores said. "People seem to absolutely love the food and I feel so blessed."
Also, the Turkey Boat is selling a limited number of pre-made Thanksgiving dinners. For $50, customers get a half a roast turkey (about 6-8 pounds of meat) plus a pan of whipped red potatoes, a pan of stuffing, two quarts of gravy and a bowl of cranberries. Only 20 dinners will be sold and they must be claimed by Nov. 10.
Preparing those Thanksgiving dinners means Flores will close down Thanksgiving week. She hopes the revenue from the dinners and the prep time she buys during the week will be adequate so she can open her doors for three hours on Thanksgiving Day and provide a free meal to those in need.
Thanksgiving, after all, is her favorite holiday and her best times are spent around those she loves.
"Anybody who walks in the door, to me, is family," Flores said.