The ‘Breakfast Boyz’ have met at Keys Café in Roseville every Thursday for 30 years

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It’s a Thursday morning at Keys Café and Bakery in Roseville.

Regulars know what this means: The Breakfast Boyz are here again.

During this particular breakfast rush, the “Boyz” of a certain age are gathered around several tables that have been pushed together in the back of the café. They’re eating French toast, drinking coffee, joking around and making conversation like they’ve known each other all their lives. Because, many of them have known each other all their lives — some as brothers, others through growing up and attending school in and around Roseville and the Como neighborhood of St. Paul, several through the world of business. New friends have come along, too. These days the chatter has expanded from kids and jobs to include grandchildren, retirement and health issues as well as current affairs and other topics of the day.

One thing in their lives has remained constant, though: this regular gathering of fraternal friends.

“These guys never miss a Thursday,” said server LeAnn Kopic.

In April, the Breakfast Boyz celebrated their 30th anniversary of meeting up for breakfast at Keys on Thursdays.

“It’s a small-town story in the cities,” said 73-year-old Bob Cardinal of Roseville, one of the Boyz.

The Great Get-Together

In 1994, Bill Clinton was president, O.J. Simpson was facing murder charges and “Friends” was a new television sitcom. In Minnesota, regular gate admission to the Minnesota State Fair was $5, where it cost $3 to park and Grandstand tickets started at $8 to see Wynonna Judd sing (with Tim McGraw opening).

These days, friends can stay connected every moment of every day through texting, group chats, social media and email. But in 1994, people wouldn’t even understand that sentence: Texting wasn’t a thing, the internet hadn’t yet gone mainstream and most of us didn’t have email or cellphones. It was the year that Jeff Bezos started Amazon in his garage; Google wouldn’t be founded until 1998.

We mostly communicated with our friends by picking up the landline or meeting up in person — like the Boyz did.

But how did the Boyz start their breakfast club at Keys?

Recollections may vary.

The original group met for breakfast as an offshoot of gatherings with their wives, someone said. One member recalled that the Boyz set a breakfast date after they kept running into each other at funerals; another said the ritual began thanks to a conversation they had after seeing each other at the State Fair. One recalls it starting up after they happened to see their friends at Keys. Actually, someone said, they started meeting earlier at Perkins.

The Boyz all agree, though, that they looked forward to breakfast with friends.

“We had so much fun, we really cracked each other up, we saw the value right from the beginning,” recalled Mick Detviler of St. Paul, now 73. “We said, ‘We should do this all the time.’”

Detviler recalls that Connie — their regular server from 1994 to 2020 — was key in getting them to start meeting weekly at Keys.

“We knew Connie from before, she used to work at Patrick McGovern’s with Pat, the guy who owns it who is also a Como boy,” Detviler said.

Connie reminded Detviler of Flo, that feisty and funny waitress on the vintage television sitcom “Alice.”

“Just like Flo, Connie could dish it right back,” Detviler said. “I think the guys loved it. When we talked about getting together more often, Connie said, ‘I’m here on Thursdays, I’ll have the table set for you.’”

‘A true blessing’

In the early years, when the Boyz had less flexibility in their schedules, they still managed to juggle work and family and other obligations to keep Thursday mornings free for this great get-together. If their kids were off from school, they sometimes tagged along. Other special guests still stop by, like friends back in town who know where to find the Boyz if it’s a Thursday morning.

As the years rolled along and membership grew, the breakfast club provided a space and place to network as well as reminisce and talk politics, religion and other hot topics. From the kitchen to the board room, from places of business to the classroom, from the expertise of law to the skill set of marketing and publishing, their careers were varied. There’s even a (past) Vulcan among them.

Each week, the Boyz estimate that there might be between 10 and 25 at breakfast — the gathering grows and shrinks “like an accordion,” Cardinal said.

On the Thursday that the Pioneer Press stopped by, Jerry Hammer — the retired CEO of the State Fair and perhaps the group’s most well-known member, also known as Bob Hammer’s little brother — was not able to attend, but we caught up with the 69-year-old St. Paul resident by phone later.

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“I’ve known these guys literally most of my life, it’s such a joy,” said Hammer of the tradition. “It’s a constant that keeps you grounded. I’d go to Australia to give presentations on the Fair, get home and get back to Keys with the Boyz.”

The men, mostly in their 60s and 70s now, see coming to breakfast on Thursdays as a ritual that is as sacred as attending the State Fair every summer.

“This has been a highlight of my life,” said original member Steve Burwell, 74, of Roseville. “A true blessing.”

“It’s just a good bunch of guys,” Cardinal said.

It’s not limited to breakfast, though: The guys have started meeting up for lunch once a month. You’ll find them across the street at the House of Wong.

“We call it Wing Wednesdays,” Detviler said.

By the numbers

A sign celebrating 30 years honors longtime server Connie and shows the Breakfast Boyz have consumed more than 21,000 breakfasts and 70,000 cups of coffee since their first meeting on April 18, 1994, at Keys Cafe and Bakery in Roseville. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Over 30 years, a lot of coffee has been consumed on Thursday mornings.

Just how much?

Burwell, the statistician of the group, also known as “The Great Calculator,” recently ran the numbers for 30 years of weekly breakfasts. Over the span of three decades, the Boyz have:

Met for breakfast once a week for 1,560 weeks.
Ordered 21,490 meals.
Consumed 70,249 cups of coffee (or 2,911 gallons).

As for dollars spent, it’s more challenging to tabulate.

“Everyone gets their own tab,” Detviler said.

But the Great Calculator, at our request, ran those ballpark numbers and came up with a conservative estimate of $211,032.

Now that’s a lot of support for one local business!

Pandemic tailgating

It also wasn’t easy to keep meeting during the pandemic. Remember, restaurants were closed for awhile. Then, seating was outside or limited.

The Boyz, though, still gathered here on Thursdays — even if they couldn’t do so inside the restaurant.

“They tailgated,” recalled server Wendy Olson.

The Boyz dined at the picnic tables the restaurant set up in the parking lot — but they missed their regular routine inside.

“Even during the shutdown,” said Kopic, their regular server, “they’d be looking in the windows.”

Their longtime server, Connie, retired during the pandemic, like so many people did. But Kopic has the routine down now.

“She can go around the table and know what everyone wants without anyone saying anything,” Cardinal said.

The Boyz also lost a friend, Jim “Ole” Olson, during 2020 — although not to COVID-19. Even during his final months, as Olson dealt with health issues, he kept coming for breakfast on Thursdays. That included his birthday celebration (your birthday is a big deal if you are one of the Boyz).

“You think I’m going to pass up free cake?” his friends recall him saying.

A photo of the late Jimmy Olson and his U.S. Navy Seabee hat looks over the shoulders of Mike Miller, left rear, and Bob Hammer, right rear, as the Breakfast Boyz meet at Keys Cafe and Bakery in Roseville on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Olson passed away at age 70 on Dec. 3, 2020. In a way, he is still part of Thursdays. During the gathering in April, his photo was displayed here, overlooking his table of friends.

“He’s like our patron saint,” Detviler said.

Same place, next week

In 2024, it’s easy to stay in touch with friends without meeting up in person — maybe too easy, maybe too isolating. The Boyz could certainly start a group chat on their phones now, or get some face time via FaceTime. It wouldn’t be the same, though.

There’s no bacon or fellowship with that kind of tradition.

So the breakfast club continues. It’s as comforting as a bowl of oatmeal at this point.

“They all know someone will be here every Thursday,” said Jeannie Hunn, the owner of the café.

Today, the Boyz will gather as usual.

“We look forward to it every week,” said Detviler.

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