Aleko’s Restaurant owner Mark Savedes has his “Oprah Moment” after feeding five local families the year they bounce back from the pandemic.

SOUTH LYON, Mich—Mark Savedes, owner of Aleko’s Restaurant in South Lyon, is struggling as much as any other diner operating at limited capacity.

But he’s channeled his toughest year in business to redefine their business model in a way that serves others.

He would begin offering free meals, and let his community nominate who deserved them.

“Every Sunday I was sitting on my couch reading these people’s stories crying,” said Savedes. Which is why, after seeing hundreds of stories from people nominating their friends, family and loved ones, Savedes gathered a team of his employees to help narrow down who the five winners would be to receive dinner for a year.

RELATED: This Pub Is Alive Thanks to Grants and COVID Relief. Now They’re Ready To Party This St. Patrick’s Day.

Overcoming Hardships Beyond the Pandemic

One winner, Kimberly Hytinen, a single mother of three daughters from Howell, Michigan was nominated by her childhood friend who tagged her on the Facebook post.

Hytinen is a mother, freelance writer, virtual assistant and primary caregiver for her 19-year-old daughter, Lisa, who is diagnosed with a rare genetic condition called 2q23.1 Microdeletion Syndrome.

Lisa enjoys playing Pokemon and has recently learned how to cook scrambled eggs, toast and mac and cheese through her Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy. The therapists are in the Hytinen household 30 hours a week guiding Lisa with life skills.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Left This Michigander So Sad She Wanted to Skip the Holidays. Then She Got 1,200 Christmas Cards.

Through life’s ups and downs, the Hytinen family has always persevered. Whether that was when one of their daughter’s was diagnosed with Leukemia at age 10, or when Kim went back to school to receive her Bachelor’s degree with a 4.0 GPA, starting her business and then having to close it.

There has always been a constant in their life; the four of them have always been there for each other. Their family is on the waiting list to receive their vaccines and once they do and feel comfortable to be out again they are going to spend some time at an arcade, per Lisa’s request, and enjoy their next meal from Aleko’s.

Surprising Families Gives Aleko’s An Oprah Moment

Savedes feared for his small business at the start of the pandemic just like everyone else. The thoughts of how to pay for rent, electricity and keep their employees ran through his mind relentlessly. He knew the times were changing and the idea of casual dining was no longer the norm.

Along with adjusting the way he conducted his restaurant business he also had to change his internal focus, “I was focusing more on fear and not faith,” said Savedes.

DON’T MISS: Michigan’s Medical Professionals Are Giving Back During the Pandemic

Aleko’s Dinner For a Year community program will offer one free meal a month for a year to five families in need throughout their community. These posts were being shared throughout Facebook, Instagram and Community Forum pages in their area. 

Savedes described it as his personal ‘Oprah Moment.’ Giving back to the community has always been a part of Aleko’s business model.

Whether that was through feeding over 13,000 front line workers, the coat drive in Detroit, or offering cancer screenings; it’s all about giving back and doing good right where you are in your community.

“The intention at the beginning was to be rich…but when I had that (mental) shift from success to significance, and seeing the impact you make on someone…” Savedes said, “it’s more than pizza and ribs, it’s about the relationship.”