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story.lead_photo.caption Marquise Merriweather of North Little Rock chooses his side dishes during a free Thanksgiving meal at The Parlor Tattoo in North Little Rock on Thursday. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

If someone walked past the place with a 6-foot-tall Viking head standing between a mobile hair salon and a garage with the tunes of AC/DC emanating from within, he was in the right place Thursday.

The denizens of The Parlor Tattoo in North Little Rock were giving thanks for years of friendship and were handing out free food to any neighbors who happened by.

"You hungry?" owner Scott Diffee shouted at Monte Jackson, 24, who was carrying the few bags of his belongings from Flint, Mich., on his back as he wandered by around noon.

Jackson hesitated at first and said he had somewhere else to be. But he eventually made his way inside the shop, where Diffee and his friends had prepared trays of fixings and served up to-go boxes from behind the counter.

Jackson filled his to-go box from the selection of mashed potatoes with gravy, dinner rolls, dressing, yams with marshmallows, corn casserole, corn, green bean casserole, roasted potatoes and, of course, turkey -- smoked.

Sweet potato pie, apple pie, peach cobbler, cherry cobbler and cake finished out the feast.

About 80 percent of the food was made from scratch, said Kathy Campbell, a friend of Diffee's. It was enough to feed about 80 people, Diffee said.

The feast was served and cooked by Diffee and his many friends.

Diffee slicks back his hair, wears aviators and a denim jacket and has tattoos, including one of a spider web, up his neck. Many of his friends are clad in plaid, sporting dyed hair or long beards. Many used to be in bands or still are. Diffee is in three -- The Martyrs, Iron Tongue and Go Fast. He was in a fourth, the name of which cannot be reprinted in this newspaper, but the members broke up.

"We look like a bunch of unsavory characters," Diffee's friend Andy Conrad said. "But we're not."

Jackson sat down to eat his meal at a glass table outside, where the sun shone in the upper 50s Thursday.

He said he'd moved from Flint five days before, fresh off a Greyhound bus, to work at a cleaning company. It was on short notice. He said he hadn't reached out yet to family members in Conway, for whom he doesn't have phone numbers. He is connected with them on Facebook, but Facebook is too much drama, he said, so he doesn't use it often.

But the dinner at The Parlor Tattoo felt like a family outing, Jackson said.

"It was a God blessing to me," he said.

The dinner was also a boon to a man whose roommate forgot to pay the electricity bill; a man whose family has not invited him to their past two Thanksgivings; a man who had no other plans; and a woman who had been looking for a dinner at a church in McAlmont but didn't find one.

Ezan Huchingson found the woman at a Family Dollar store, and she asked for a ride to the church. When they found it empty, Huchingson thought she'd just buy the woman food, but they stumbled upon The Parlor Tattoo and its black sign outside advertising "Free Dinner."

"God bless your heart," Jackson said.

"It's the season," Huchingson said.

A new soul food restaurant next door -- Ms. Punkin's -- also served about three dozen people by 2 p.m.

Lots of people who pass by the tattoo shop -- and Diffee knows many of them from his eight years on East Broadway in North Little Rock -- have nowhere else to eat or no means of cooking for themselves.

"In the middle of all this poverty, and all this stuff," Conrad said, "we're trying to do something awesome."

Rose City is already awesome, Diffee countered.

Some years the food at the tattoo shop is gone by midafternoon (the dinner starts at noon), and sometimes there are leftovers. Any extra food goes to The Van organization to distribute to people who are homeless across Pulaski County.

Last year, a woman who was staying at a hotel after just moving to town took her 17 children to The Parlor Tattoo for dinner, Diffee said. They ate a lot of food.

The feasts started eight years ago, Diffee said. He had invited friends to his house, which is attached to the back of shop, and they cooked too much food. So they put the food on plates and asked passers-by if they wanted any.

So now Diffee and friends do it every year. People donate food, and friends go over and cook it. Three people started cooking Wednesday and stayed overnight to wake up early and cook even more on Thanksgiving Day.

Janet Jennings, 37, had been cooking since Wednesday. She was tired by lunch Thursday, sipping coffee from a mug and smoking cigarettes. Thursday was her birthday, in addition to being her fourth Thanksgiving at the tattoo shop.

"I'm spending it with my tribe," she said.

It's Diffee's tribe, too. Since falling out with his mother after she was convicted of killing his grandmother more than 20 years ago, his family hasn't had big Thanksgivings.

"It just felt good to have some friends around here," he said.

Diffee's dad stops by, provides a dish and serves food.

Diffee noted that he knows the people who are struggling with addiction and midlife crises. People grow and bond by doing things like the Thanksgiving dinner, he said.

After helping a man get some food Thursday, Diffee said the dinner is about more than just feeding a person who is hungry for food.

"I guess it's not just for the homeless -- it's for the lonely, too," he said.

Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun
Daniel “Boxcar” Logan gets a trim from Michael Birch, also known as Bircho The Barber, at The Parlor Tattoo in North Little Rock on Thursday. Birch offered free haircuts to anyone on Thanksgiving Day as the tattoo shop gave out free meals.

Metro on 11/24/2017

Print Headline: Food with friends and strangers: NLR tattoo shop owner serves up free feast, companionship

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