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Generosity with a side of fries

Mighty Mike’s owner, Michael Schawalder, interacts with regulars at the counter. Anna Harris
The walls of Mighty Mike's Grill and Bar in Sterling are lined with dart boards, shot glasses and dust jackets from old vinyl records. But among the nick-knacks that clutter the walls hang plaques and photos testifying to charity and good works.

“Elks Distinguished Citizenship Award is presented to Michael Schawalder for outstanding and meritorious service to humanity,” reads one from Loudoun's Order of Elks, awarded last year.

“Certificate of Appreciation is presented to Mighty Mike's Restaurant in recognition and appreciation for your support to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Special Response Team during the suburban sniper investigation,” reads another from the Department of the Treasury, presented in 2002.

The man behind the restaurant, Michael Schawalder, has been owner since 2001. He sees his establishment as more than a bar. It's a community of regulars and people looking to lend a hand.

“It makes us happy when we can help people get what they need when they're in need,” the 38-year-old ex-Marine said. “We're not just a restaurant. We're a big family. We have our tough times. We have our fun times. It all evens out sooner or later down the road.”

Mighty Mike's hosts different charities and fundraisers every year. A recurring favorite is his 12-hour walk for breast cancer.

Knowing people who have both survived and succumbed to the illness, Schawalder said he “hates cancer with a passion.” So three years ago, he decided to raise money for the Tri-State for Ta-Tas Sake team in their walk for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

September 6 will be the third year Schawalder walks 12 hours straight on Sterling Middle School's track.

The event is substantial, with face-painting, a moonbounce and bake sales all aimed at raising money in conjunction with whatever is donated by sponsors for every mile Schawalder walks.

Schawalder and his family also donate to the Wounded Warrior Project and the Semper Fi Fund, both geared at helping veterans.

One year, a bus full of recovering amputee veterans opened its doors at Mighty Mike's, where veterans were treated to an all-they-could-eat buffet and the community's gratitude.

“It was their first time out in public as an amputee.” Schawalder said. “So everybody here was going up and thanking them, buying beers and food just to say thank you.”

From dart league tournaments aimed at raising money for children's diabetes to collecting donations for scholarships, the family at Mighty Mike's does what it can.

“Nine times out of ten I know the people I'm helping,” said Schawalder. “The drive is for all of us to do better than we did the year before. To keep breaking barriers.”

Joining the Marines directly after high school, Schawalder was medically discharged from the military after less than a year. He got a job at what is now Mighty Mike's as a DJ when he was 19 and gradually worked his way up to owner at 26.

He met his wife at the restaurant when he was 22, and they married two years later. She's been by his side in the running of the business ever since.

“Mike is a wonderful father,” said Beverly Schawalder. “He's my best friend. He loves what he does, and he loves his regulars...He truly cares for (these people).”

The spotlight-shy Schawalder said he gets his generous nature from his father.

“My dad would do anything for anybody,” he said. “Drop of the hat. I learned a lot from giving with him...With our kids, we want to teach them that. Especially these days.”

His restaurant is the perfect outlet for continuing the legacy of giving.

“We've been blessed to be open more than 13 years and hope to be open longer,” he said. “And while we are open, we'll do as many charity events as we need.”


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