As the slow march of time changes both the landscape and tenor of this once-sleepy village, one tradition hasn’t changed at all: The daily meeting of the Breakfast Club at Plums Restaurant.
It is eight o’clock on a Thursday morning at Plums restaurant. Tradesmen, professionals, retirees, law enforcement – they’re all stopping in for breakfast or a cup of joe. Some will enjoy a meal before heading off to work, others will take it with them. The pace at the counter is steady and fast, the atmosphere is friendly, and the smell of bacon, coffee, and home fries coming from the kitchen – well, that’s the stuff memories are made of.
But at one table, nobody seems to be in a hurry. They’re leaning back in their chairs telling stories, reminiscing, and catching up on each others’ joys and sorrows, aches and pains. One’s got a luncheon to plan for later in the day; one has to get to Macon for a meeting; one’s got a restoration project he’s in the middle of; and one is already late for work. But no one seems eager – or willing – to get up and leave. Meet one of Richmond Hill’s oldest and least exclusive organizations: The Breakfast Club.
“This is an amazing group of people,” says Jennifer Breon, wife of Gary Breon who bought the place in 2002. “Some have been coming here since Turzah Jones had the place, and that goes back to the late 1990s.”
Cheri Keller, with her warm and welcoming smile and her almost uncanny ability to call the group to attention, is clearly the club’s den mother. If there are messages to be shared or photos to be taken, Cheri has it under control. “Most of us have known each other for years,” she says. “We’ve worked together, played together, celebrated together, and mourned together. You never know who’s going to show up on any given day, but as soon as they walk in the door it’s like one big family.”
Before she can finish those thoughts, she’s out of her chair and greeting a late-arriving member with a hug.
Earl Futch runs the Do All Garage out on the Cartertown Road. He’s got fifty restoration projects lined up and he needs to get back to them. But there’s always time for the Breakfast Club. “These are special people,” he says, adjusting his Fedora hat and looking around the room. “I moved away for while,” he shares, quietly. “Spent some time in the military, then moved up to Maine where, somehow, I made it work for 20 years. Then one day I realized that both the state of Maine, and the people I was living with, were just too darn cold. I missed this place and these people, and it’s good to be home.”
Staci Helsel is the youngest member of the club. She has an infectious laugh that literally lights up the room. She glances at her watch – more than once – because she knows it’s time to head off to work. But no one is willing to let her go. “I’m not retired like these guys,” she laughs. “I used to stop in here for a quick bite before heading off to work and the next thing you know, they all started sitting near me. Then they started sitting next to me. Finally, it’s like they surrounded me. I didn’t really join the Breakfast Club – I just kind of melted into it.”
If Cheri Keller – who is still handing out hugs to all who come through the door – is the den mother of the group, then Carter Infinger might be described as the den dad. He’s always got a story to tell. He’s always happy to see you. And he makes you feel like an old friend the moment you meet him. As Chair of the Bryan County Commissioners, he’s got his finger on the pulse of just about everything and everyone, and he’s a regular at the Breakfast Club.
As the laughter and conversation ebbs and flows, two members of the group have remained mostly quiet. Billy Reynolds, who served on the RHPD for 32 years, retiring as chief; and Barry Humrick, who’s retired from the military and married – as he puts it – “to a local girl.” The local girl, Lisa, happens to be the daughter of Phil Jones, a former County Commissioner. Billy and Barry sip their coffee and enjoy the camaraderie, but they’re content to leave the storytelling to others.
One of the long standing “arguments“ among club members is who actually started the group. “We’re all old now and we can’t remember what we did yesterday, so who knows,” says longtime member Jody Laing. “Other than a daily exercise in solving ALL the world’s problems, I think the coolest thing is that this wonderful group of casual friends has become as close as family.”
As the morning meeting begins to wind down, Theron Darieng arrives – too late to join the conversation, but not too late to claim the title of the oldest member of the group (bumping Wayman Hagan into second place). Wayman arrived here in 1945. Theron arrived in 1939 after – in his words – “our family got pushed out of Clyde.” Theron has lived in Richmond Hill since he was five, and he wouldn’t live anywhere else.
“The Breakfast Club is pretty special,” says owner Gary Breon, coming in the door with an armful of cucumbers donated by Cheri’s husband Hubert Keller. “But be sure to mention that we’re always welcoming new members!”