Wisconsin-based Applebee's restaurants serve more than 18,000 veterans on Veterans Day

WAUKESHA (WITI) -- Wisconsin Hospitality Group and its 36 Wisconsin-based Applebee’s restaurants are proud to announce that their seventh annual Veterans Day campaign was a success, with more than 18,000 veterans served and $4,000 raised to support Badger Honor Flight, a regional affiliate of the national Honor Flight Network.

“By visiting on their day of recognition, our veterans are not just receiving a free meal, but our appreciation and gratitude for all of their sacrifices,” said Mark Dillon, president and CEO of Wisconsin Hospitality Group, LLC. “This year brought new and familiar faces in our restaurants, each who we were extremely proud to serve.”

Active and retired servicemen and women were invited to stop by one of the locations to receive a free entrée (including a 7oz. sirloin and Applebee’s new All-In Burger) for their service.  Both veterans and non-military guests were eager to express their gratitude for this event.

“As a Vietnam vet, the early years after my return from the combat were relatively devoid of appreciation. We left somewhat rejected,” explained Leval Suiter. “So as a class of veterans, the appreciation shown by our country and by businesses like Applebee's is tremendously gratifying. We thank you!”

“This is an amazing thing that Applebee's does for the veterans,” said Marie Radtke, the wife of a veteran who had their meal of honor at the Applebee’s in Madison. “They have done so much for our country and they need and appreciate the recognition.”

For many of the veterans, this was not the first time they have attended the Veterans Day event. “This is my third year coming to this event,” said Tom Kuypo, a retired serviceman. “And, the food always is so good!”

Not only did all 36 Applebee’s locations decorate and present veterans with a thank you poster, some guests took it upon themselves to show their own appreciation for all the veterans.

"It was my pleasure to salute all veterans,” explained Alan Sherman, “Especially to the veterans in the Watertown area." Sherman, who frequents the Applebee's in Watertown, created and gifted a vase of 21 red roses to the restaurant.

Along with honoring veterans with their free meal, WHG collected donations to support Badger Honor Flight and their six hubs across the state of Wisconsin. This year, more than $4,000 was raised in help in sending several members of Honor Flight to Washington D.C. for a visit to memorials dedicated that honor their service and sacrifices. Many of the veterans who stopped by on Veterans Day had participated in an Honor Flight trip or had the honor to witness an honor flight homecoming of another veteran.

“It is something unlike anything you have seen before,” said Connie Allord, one of the original Honor Flight founders. “The emotion and atmosphere when we welcome them back from a trip, it is something you have to witness.”

Throughout the last 13 years, Wisconsin Hospitality Group, a local restaurant franchise group, its two restaurant brands, Pizza Hut and Applebee's, has been able to donate more than $2.4 million combined gifts to local charities including Children's Hospital, World Hunger Relief, Veteran's Day Honor Flight and One Heartland.  These donations were made possible by both the generosity of guests and the hard work of all WHG team members.

WHG has had the opportunity to provide Children's Hospital with youth beds and furniture as well as contributions to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) renovation; to provide honor flights to Washington DC for 19 local veterans; to provide financial support for childhood hunger; and to provide funding for children with HIV and AIDS so that they may experience a life-altering summer camp experience. The company is working to establish a 501c3 foundation to centralize all future fundraising efforts and provide opportunities for tax deductible donations.

Wisconsin Hospitality Group owns and operates 119 restaurants across Wisconsin. WHG has grown in sales to become the largest food service franchise company in the state. Headquartered in Waukesha, WHG operates 36 Applebee’s Grill & Bar restaurants and 83 Pizza Hut Restaurants, all committed to guest satisfaction and community support.