In a wanton display of gratitude and patriotism, James Chiu invited 30,000 people to a free meal yesterday as part of his Canada Day celebration.

The president of the Mandarin Restaurant chain, Chiu threw open the doors to his 21 gluttony-inducing buffet restaurants across the province yesterday, serving up free meals to anyone with proof of their Canadian citizenship.

“We just wanted to say a big thank you to Canada for giving us this opportunity and freedom that we enjoy in this country,” said Chiu, who — like all of the company’s managing partners — immigrated to Canada before earning his citizenship. “We were welcomed into this country at various stages of our lives and we’re all very happy to be here. Canada Day is the perfect day to show our gratitude to this country.”

Waving tiny red fans in the shape of a maple leaf, and occasionally breaking out in a patriotic verse of O Canada, hundreds of people lined up for hours for a chance to get a free meal the Yonge and Eglinton location yesterday — just one of 21 Mandarin outlets across the province taking part.

“This is just one of the advantages to being a Canadian citizen,” said Carina Saldanha, 49, as she neared the front of the line. Like others, she had dragged her extended family out at 9 a.m. to get in line — three hours before the restaurant opened and more than five hours before she would be seated.

“We’re just happy to be here to enjoy the party on Canada Day.”

Chiu said he expected his restaurants to serve an estimated 50,000 sweet and sour chicken balls, 2,000 pounds of rice and more than 30,000 spring rolls, in addition to all the other foods offered at the buffet.

And though he’d like to throw a similar celebration for the country’s birthday every year, the $500,000 estimated price tag on the event limits him to offering a day of free meals only once every five years or so.

“If we do this every year we’re going to go bankrupt,” he said. “This year is our 30th anniversary though, so it’s the perfect time.”

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