A group of Craig men listen to a story from Lou Wyman (middle-right) over coffee and tea in the back room at the Coolwater Grille. The group has shared stories over coffee for years, first at the Golden Cavvy and now at Coolwater. Starting front-left: Dean Visintainer, Bill Rippy, Neil McCandless, Paul Kawcak, Al Shepherd, Wyman and Fred Shaffer are all regulars. Dean Jent is another common face not pictured here.

Photo by Nate Waggenspack

A group of Craig men listen to a story from Lou Wyman (middle-right) over coffee and tea in the back room at the Coolwater Grille. The group has shared stories over coffee for years, first at the Golden Cavvy and now at Coolwater. Starting front-left: Dean Visintainer, Bill Rippy, Neil McCandless, Paul Kawcak, Al Shepherd, Wyman and Fred Shaffer are all regulars. Dean Jent is another common face not pictured here.

Craig men enjoy each other's company at morning gatherings

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Head to the Coolwater Grille on a weekday morning and you’ll see a typical cross section of Craig citizens strewn throughout the restaurant enjoying coffee, breakfast and company.

Head into the café’s back room and you’ll see a more unique grouping, carrying on a tradition of friendship that goes back generations in Craig.

A group of Craig men ranging anywhere from a few to as many as 10 gathers for coffee, tea and a good time. The clique of some of Craig’s (and Moffat County’s) long-living citizens gets together and no topic is off limits.

According to Lou Wyman, the coffee clutch was born out of a different lunch date years ago. Neil McCandless had lunch with Chuck Stoddard everyday, and it eventually turned into morning coffee with more men joining in at the Golden Cavvy in downtown Craig.

“Neil used to get together with Chuck Stoddard for lunch,” Wyman said. “They would have a martini everyday. At some point they couldn’t have a martini anymore, so it turned into coffee. Chuck didn’t really come to coffee, but several of us started having coffee together. So it’s actually Neil’s fault.”

This sort of good-natured ribbing is commonplace at Coolwater now, which became the preferred location after the Golden Cavvy closed earlier this fall.

Having fun does not stop with just the group of friends, however. What started from lunch for two has grown into a much larger group. On a given day Al Shepherd, Dean Jent, Dean Visintainer, Bill Rippy, Paul Kawcak and Fred Shaffer may all be found in the back room with McCandless and Wyman exchanging stories, waxing about politics or current events, or talking about their families.

“It really degenerated,” McCandless said jokingly of the expansion into a larger group of friends.

The concept of a group of friends getting together for morning coffee or lunch is nothing new. Wyman said his father was involved in a similar activity.

“There used to be a group, they called themselves the ‘Knotheads,’” he said. “They used to have lunch everyday. There was (McCandless’) dad, my dad. They’d match for lunch every day. They had a lot of fun.”

Rippy said his father did something similar.

“My dad was with a group who had coffee and they’d match as well,” Rippy said. “Oh did they have fun.”

This crew has carried on that tradition admirably. At times there are three different stories being told at the various corners of the table, with laughter echoing through the room almost non-stop.

Whether it’s lighter topics such as Shaffer’s definition of a brute or crazy stories from their time spent in Moffat County, or more serious things like the recent violence seen on the news or some of Moffat County’s war heroes, the coffee clutch has a working knowledge of all things Craig, going back for years.

The men are also quite self-deprecating, making pokes at their age regularly.

“If you come here much, you’ll probably hear the same stories over,” Shaffer said. “We don’t know which ones we’ve told. We can’t remember that stuff.”

But showing through in their conversations is a real friendship along with knowledge of and caring for their community. In between the bathroom breaks, which are so frequently referenced by the clutch, heart can be seen.

“We have fun,” Shepherd said. “Although I’m not sure it makes much sense while we’re here, we have fun.”

Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 875-1795 or nwaggenspack@craigdailypress.com.

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