Getting together with the Koffee Klatch
“We solve everything,” says retired banker Harry Grashoff, the self-appointed chairman. “If it’s a medical problem, we solve it. If it’s a political problem, we solve it. If it’s a science problem, we solve it.” Balderdash, counters Dick Guiton, a retired contractor, selecting a barnyard euphemism that suggests Grashoff just may be a little full of himself. Grashoff, the Redding Bank of Commerce co-founder, smiles. After more than 30 years in attendance, he’s comfortable with the give and take.
“If you take yourself too seriously, you’ll find out just how unserious Klatch really is,” says Randy Smith, a retired anesthesiologist who has been attending the morning sessions for about a dozen years. “They’ll put it in your face.”
In all seriousness, though, Smith says the informal Koffee Klatch provides a valuable service. “I have asked when I’m stymied with a problem or a political situation and I always get different advice from them that I wouldn’t think of otherwise. They might poke fun at you, but when you ask, you get very sound advice.”
More recently, when longtime builder Ken Gifford’s battle with cancer was nearing its end, Smith says Gifford’s family members were having difficulty contacting the many people Gifford had worked with over the years. “They didn’t know how to get the word out. I went down to Klatch and told, and all of a sudden the word was all over town,” Smith says.
The Koffee Klatch started in 1951, when downtown business owners began taking morning breaks for pie and coffee at the Woolworth’s counter. Topics of conversation typically centered on downtown issues, ways to make things better for customers and general gossip.
Original members included Paul Bodenhamer, editor of the Record Searchlight, John Fitzpatrick, the owner of McColl’s Dairy, and C.M. Dicker, the owner of Dicker’s department store. Marvin Kause, general manager of the downtown Penney’s, helped keep the group together and others joined over time, including clothiers Nick and Joe Girimonte, and Lou Gerard, a car dealer.
“Guys like Marvin kept it going and drew in people like Grashoff, and Fitzpatrick (John Fitzpatrick Jr.) and Gerard (Lou Gerard Jr). Over time it kind of became a retired guys’ get-together,” Smith says. “They had the time and wanted to stay involved.”
Meetings moved from Woolworth’s to the Redding Hotel and then to the SandWichery, where they’ve stayed for the past 25 years. It’s such an institution now that a plaque on the wall commemorates Klatch members who have passed away. There are about 40 members, and on any given day, 12 to 25 will show up for coffee.
Retired or not, the Klatch members still have a business sense about them, and it’s a great resource. Grashoff says about 90 percent of the members belong to one of Redding’s five Rotary Clubs, which makes it easier to exchange information on various projects and rustle up support.
Smith, a member of the old-guard Redding Rotary Club, said the Klatch is a nice outlet. “At Rotary meetings, you really don’t have time to sit and talk. Koffee Klatch provides a way to socialize and chitchat, and it’s nice knowing it will be there every day. It’s kind of a place to go down and see how everybody’s doing.”
Grashoff says he appreciates the mix of members—doctors, insurance guys, bankers, the Girimonte brothers, Bob Dicker, Russ Duclos, Joe Tallerico—and notes with a smile that there are no attorneys and only one politician, former state Sen. Maurice Johannessen, who also served on the Redding City Council and the Shasta County Board of Supervisors.
“They’ve all been in key positions at one place or another and they go deep into the foundations of Redding. If you have an issue, or need a recommendation, somebody is going to know somebody,” Grashoff says.
“There are all kinds of collateral benefits,” agrees Smith. “Need a good painter? Want to know what the city council is going to do next week? It’s more than just a cup of coffee, that’s for sure.”
There are only two hard-and-fast rules for the Koffee Klatch: it wraps up at 10 am on the button and the “winner” of the coin-flip ritual pays for the coffee. The coin-flip procedure is even spelled out on the back of a manila folder that’s as old as the group itself.
Koffee Klatch members don’t skimp when it comes to taking care of their hosts, SandWichery owners Pat and Sandy Watson. For putting up with the daily hubbub, Klatch members chip in each year to send the couple on a little summer vacation and pass the hat each December for a Christmas donation. •