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Gathering over coffee and breakfast at Monticello’s ‘Table of Knowledge’

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 7:12 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - It’s not just who you know, but what you know at a restaurant with a long history in Our Town Monticello. Darrell’s Restaurant has been a gathering place for generations, but the pandemic made it a difficult year one group of regulars.

Dubbed the “Table of Knowledge,” a group of retirees in Monticello split into their respective tables; one for Republicans and one for Democrats.

“Once and a while we’d get in some pretty heated arguments over politics. That was part of the charm I guess, other than it got a little out of hand,” Don Tapken said.

“People would come in and if you didn’t get sort of, insulted, it didn’t make your day,” Dean Schwendinger said. “So we really razzed each other, but most of the time we didn’t take each other real serious.”

Nicole Reyner is a fourth-generation owner of Darrell’s, which opened in 1947. She enjoys welcoming the group to her restaurant, but says they would get into some passionate arguments.

“They have a little thing that if it’s getting too heated, ‘when’s a good time to trim your rose bushes?’ That’s like the safe word,” Reyner said.

The conversation changed during the pandemic, as Darrell’s closed its dining room. Customers supported the restaurant with its drive-up service, and some members of the Table of Knowledge would gather outdoors.

“It was difficult during COVID to miss this group and fellowship,” Merle Gerdes said.

Several members of the group passed away during the pandemic, as the tables aren’t as full as they once were.

“There used to be 10 of us and five of us have died, three of them from COVID, and that happened last fall,” Tapken said.

The group found comfort in each other’s company as they’ve started to gather again for conversation and another cup of coffee. If you want to join them, they warn that you can’t take it too seriously.

“People gotta be - let the water run off your back kind of thing if you want to sit right here,” Schwendinger said.

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