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North Bay Man Gives Military Veterans Community, Free Meals

WINDSOR (KPIX 5) -- A North Bay business owner who started a breakfast club for military veterans is this week's Jefferson Award winner.

Jose Castañeda starts Saturday mornings fist-bumping his guests. They are military veterans who come to free breakfast at Castañeda's Marketplace, his 14-year-old business in Windsor.

The weekly meals started ten years ago. He invited a military moms group to breakfast and it evolved from there.

"We just kept it going. We kept it going through the recession. We kept it going through fires. We kept it going through floods," Castañeda said.

The menu this day: huevos rancheros, rancho fries and breakfast steak.

Castañeda and his staff cook the meals. He pays for them through 10% of the profits from his catering business, Paella Guy.

Between 15 and 50 veterans show up each week around the table. Many served in Vietnam and Korea. The oldest is 90-year-old Harold Goldman.

The Air Force staff sergeant calls Castañeda's group the highlight of his week.

"There ought to be more people like him with his attitude and his charm," Goldman said.

There are rules: no talk of religion or politics. Just keep it social, Castañeda said.

The group didn't meet in person for a year during the pandemic, but Jose packed up breakfast burritos, hand sanitizer and toilet paper for pick up and delivery.

But he says it wasn't the same.

"I didn't really know what it meant for some of these veterans 'til we stopped for the year," said Castañeda.

"Not being able to come here? It was terrible," said Goldman.

It was like a family reunion when they resumed gathering at the marketplace in May.

Steve Henricksen served as an Army Sergeant in Germany in the Vietnam era.

"A lot of us suffer from a bit of depression from time to time and you always know you can come here and get a lift," said Henricksen.

They've forged deep connections from stories and life with each other and with Castañeda's family.

On this morning, they catch up with Castañeda's daughter before she leaves for college.

For the group's tenth anniversary in June, he brought in a mariachi band.

"He's just like this amazing guy who really, really appreciates what we've done, probably more so than we do," Henricksen chuckled.

"It really is a privilege," Castañeda said of his commitment to serving the group.

So for providing healthy connections through free Saturday breakfasts, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Jose Castañeda.

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