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Originally published August 26, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 26, 2005 at 9:52 AM

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Diners have sweet surprise for soldier, girlfriend

When Chris Yanez wanted to take his girlfriend out for a special dinner to celebrate their one-year anniversary, he chose the venerable...

Seattle Times staff reporter

When Chris Yanez wanted to take his girlfriend out for a special dinner to celebrate their one-year anniversary, he chose the venerable restaurant Canlis, perched high above Lake Union.

Yanez, a soldier returning from Iraq, knew the dinner would be pricey. What he didn't expect is that it would be free. And he also didn't expect that when he walked out, the place would be in tears.

Before going to dinner Wednesday night, Yanez, a reservist who spent a year in Iraq as a machine-gunner, put on his green dress Army uniform, the one he was proud to wear. With his girlfriend, Liz Coleman, on his arm, he walked into Canlis, where owner Mark Canlis found the couple a special table with a panoramic view of the lake and the city.

"I was a captain in the Air Force, so I have a soft spot there," Canlis said.

A few minutes later, a man at a nearby table — who wanted to remain anonymous — walked up to the restaurant owner. "I was noticing the young soldier and saw them looking at the menu," he told Canlis. "I know he was looking at prices and I know this is a special thing, so I would like to take care of part of their bill."

Then another family, the Greenbergs, said they, too, wanted to help pay for the meal. By the end of the night several patrons had, unknown to Yanez, offered to pay for the young couple's meal. With Canlis also sharing the costs, the $150 bill evaporated.

Yanez and Coleman were sharing a peach-cobbler dessert when Canlis walked up with a piece of molten chocolate lava cake.

"There's folks in this restaurant who don't think you should have to share a dessert," Canlis told the couple. "And they don't think you should pay the bill."

Coleman burst into in tears. Tana Greenberg, whose family helped pay the bill, said she, like several other patrons, was wiping her eyes.

"This brought out the patriotism in all of us," she said. "It was just the right thing to do. We're sending our kids over there and they're dying to uphold our beliefs. We just said this couple should not have to buy their meals. It was showing our belief in the uniform and what it stands for."

Yanez, 20, a student from Renton, said he was stunned by the gesture.

"I knew Canlis was expensive, but this is a one-of-a-kind restaurant and this was a special occasion," he said. "It was the greatest thing ever. It makes me feel like people appreciate the troops and they care about people in the community. I was in shock and my girlfriend started to cry. It was really emotional."

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Canlis said his grandfather, who spent 39 years in the Marines, once told him that he should never let a soldier in uniform into his restaurant without being taken care of.

He said it's not the first time in recent months that returning troops have been honored at Canlis. Several months ago a man came in with his wife to treat her to a special dinner to make up for the two years he had spent in Iraq. The entire Canlis crew decided to pay the bill.

"That's what makes it fun for us," Canlis said, "being able to take care of people in a special way."

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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