Meet the breakfast community of 'Decaf Boys' at the Neighborhood Café in Lee's Summit
A gaggle of retirees, military vets, and ex-bikers gather at the Lee's Summit restaurant every morning. The men often skip the cinnamon rolls and say they mostly come for the camaraderie — plus the never-ending supply of decaffeinated coffee.
This story is part of an occasional KCUR series called The Regulars, about Kansas City’s neighborhood hangouts and the customers who bring them to life.
Forrest Malone, Dave Behnke and Joe Feira have pushed two tables together at Neighborhood Café, where they chuckle between sips of decaffeinated coffee. Their spot is next to the windows, peering out onto downtown Lee's Summit, Missouri.
“We come here every day,” Malone says. “Dave and I come seven days a week and sit here and drink coffee. Same table, same people. We've seen a lot of waitresses come and go.”
Malone explains that about 14 years ago, when he first started coming to this restaurant, there was a group of men already sitting at the tables they now occupy.
“Pretty soon they started dwindling apart,” Malone says. ”They invited us to sit back here and then pretty soon, next thing you know, we're the next ones in line.”
Behnke, meanwhile, has been coming to the Neighborhood Café since 2002.
"We settle the world's problems up here, then we leave about 9 o'clock, and everything goes back the way it was," Behnke jokes.
The three are a part of a larger cadre of retirees who regularly drain the café’s coffee pots, eat a light breakfast, tease the waitresses and then go about their day.
The guys mostly know each other either through the American Legion, working together for Southwestern Bell or riding in a motorcycle club.
“Before we go on these motorcycle trips, we usually come up here and eat breakfast,” Malone says.
The homey café’s walls are freshly painted a light taupe color, but normally they're filled with historic photos of Lee's Summit and other adornments. Customers can peer beneath their coffee cups and plates to see aged advertisements and other printed material beckoning them from the red tabletops.
“We’ve met a lot of friendly people up here that we got acquainted with and became real good friends, just being here in the café,” Behnke says. “The food is good. Can’t complain — you know what you’re getting when you order.”
Apple, pecan and lemon merengue pies sit in a case near the checkout counter, a few slices already missing. Aproned waitresses glide past with plates of pancakes, waffles and eggs Benedict.
Breakfast is served all day here, and, after 11 a.m., customers can dig into diner mainstays like burgers, liver and onions, and open-faced pork tenderloin sandwiches served on Texas toast.
Feira says he usually goes for something “easy on the wallet,” like biscuits and gravy or oatmeal.
Most of the men drink decaffeinated coffee, they say, because of various blood pressure issues or doctors’ orders — the restaurant workers refer to them affectionately as the "Decaf Boys." Neighborhood Café is also famous for serving a free cinnamon roll to every customer, but the guys say they sometimes skip them.
“If you eat one every day, that’ll put some weight on you,” Behnke says.
Malone says he and Behnke don’t miss a day, while others in the group come and go.
Sometimes the table is full. Sometimes it’s just Behnke and Malone. They all relish their time spent together, and understand it’s finite.
Malone tells a story about a woman who brought her 90-something-year-old father to the restaurant. He had suffered a stroke, the woman explained. He didn’t speak too well anymore, but still wanted to hang out and simply be a part of a group.
“So he came up here,” Malone says, “and stayed until the day he died.”
All the men say companionship plays a big role in becoming regulars at the café.
“Everybody knows our name,” Feira says. “Somebody gets sick, you check on them. And, if somebody's checking on you, ‘Where were you this morning? What happened?’ It's pretty important. It's all about that camaraderie.”
They all worried that once they settled into retirement, staying home watching TV would be the beginning of the end — and they’re not ready for that.
“For me,” Behnke says, “I don't want to get into the habit of sleeping until 10 o'clock. Cause then you, once you get in that chair, to me, I think you're down the road.”
Lisa Adams, one of the restaurant’s managers, says she enjoys having the regular meetup in her café.
“They’ve been coming here a long time,” Adams says. “It really shows where they feel comfortable sitting, drinking their coffee and talking amongst everyone. They are very fun.”
Behnke says he appreciates the restaurant letting them sit for an hour or two, sometimes just drinking coffee and not ordering much else.
“In a regular restaurant, they would want you to leave,” he says. “But here, they don’t care how long you stay.”