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The 'three cracker-packet' guys of Lakeside

RELATED CONTENT: Johnson's Lakeside bakery: A look at the new and the old

BY APRIL HANSEN
DCN Correspondent

It’s 7 a.m.

The crisp morning air is met by a blend of roasting coffee as Johnson’s Lakeside Bakery is open for morning business.

The aged bakery cases accent the faded yellow paint on the walls that house three black and white photos of Lakeside.

John Keturi is sitting at the single table in the corner of the bakery that has stored childhood memories, war stories, repeated jokes and political monologue. He rests his wrinkled hands on the Super Quiz in the daily newspaper that he does every morning.

“What two states have the letter ‘X’ in them?? said Keturi. “This should be easy.?

His “Secular Values Voters? pin dangles on his jacket as he turns to greet the three other war veterans and retirees that have joined him at this table for years.

John Keturi, Bob Klein, Chuck Koenig and Dennis Hughes have met every morning at the bakery for over 30 years, since it opened in 1955.

Johnson’s Lakeside Bakery was once known as Gustafson’s Bakery, which was owned by Ted Gustafson and his son’s Bob and Bill, until 2003, when they sold the business after 48 years.

Bob Klein, a retired military and school engineer, has lived in the Lakeside area for 33 years. He’s been coming to the bakery for the past 20 years.

“The atmosphere has stayed the same,? said Klein. “They don’t bake in here anymore and some of the recipes have changed, but we still have been coming every morning,?

The bakery was bought by the owners of the Johnson’s Bakery, who also have a spot in West Duluth and was said to be the “natural successor? to Gustafson’s Bakery.

John Keturi remembers when he was asked to sit at the table after years of sitting at the bar counter that was there when the Gustafson’s owned the bakery.

“I finally was invited over and I’ve been here ever since,? said Keturi.

The range of topics has stayed the same over the years, only the names have changed. Politics, religion, book reviews, radio and television shows are just a few.

Chuck Koenig, who is known as “the boss? in the group, is a self-employed contractor and has lived in Duluth for over 60 years. He says that there isn't a topic that's off limits.

“Every subject possible,? he said. “Some that are even impossible.?

The newest member of the group, Dennis Hughes, is a retired Duluth postmaster who has lived in Duluth all his life and graduated from Duluth East High School and UMD. His knowledge of Duluth and experience with the Lakeside community brings a different perspective to the coffee table every morning.

Some community members have noticed the presence of the men. Bob Abrahamson is a worker at the Hardware Hank’s down the street from the bakery.

“They are there every morning trying to save the world,? he said.

Jennifer Sawyer currently works at the bakery and has been there for four years.

“They are a bunch of comedians,? she said. “They get into heated discussions sometimes, but their topics are still interesting.?

These four men have a long list of experiences that contribute to their morning conversations, from being Vietnam War veterans, husbands, fathers and grandfathers.

They not only have opinions on worldly affairs, but also the Lakeside Area. Chuck Koenig moved to Duluth to raise his daughters.

“It’s a very fine place to live with an amazing variety,? he said.

“A laid back bedroom community,? said John Keturi.

He adds that he thinks that Lakeside has gotten younger or else he has become older.

Johnson’s Lakeside Bakery has been the meeting spot for these four men for years, but is also a place for other customers and groups in the area. Another group of men meet every Friday morning.

“They are the characters,? said Klein. “ We are just the character flawed.?

Dennis Hughes, the lifelong Duluthian, is a living historical reference to this area.

“The activity of Lakeside largely remains unchanged,? he said. “There are fewer service stations, but core issues of the community remain.?

These well known community members’ morning coffee may be over around 9 a.m., but they still decide to come back to the bakery for lunch, some days, to have the soup and sandwich. Bob Klein brags about how when they order the soup they get more cracker packets than the normal customer.

“We are the three cracker packet guys,? said Klein.

Comments

Love, love, loved this article. You're an excellent writer, April. I think you'll do just fine!