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Eatbeat: Caribou a good spot for longtime breakfast partners

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Large windows look west out on Columbia Road — over toward Altru Hospital. To the south, there is Perkins restaurant.

And throughout the morning, afternoon and early evening, people are in and out of Caribou. This coffee shop is one of several that have become a place where UND students tend to hang out and study. It seems to attract people meeting to discuss business. And it offers a comfortable place where friends tend to sip coffee, eat bagels and chit chat.

With a variety of sturdy chairs and tables, Caribou seems to be a place where customers settle in and stay for a while.

And this is the place where I met up with Roger and Sheila Nelson of rural East Grand Forks and Joe and Susan Belcourt of Grand Forks.

The two couples have been getting together for breakfast at least once a month for 29 years.

While the get togethers began as breakfast, they have changed with the times. Good coffee has always been the common denominator. Although the two couples went to favorite restaurants during the early years, they have found themselves moving around. They enjoy the Red Lobster, Ruby Tuesday and Olive Garden. They prefer to go as a foursome and keep it to that. They like to see new places. They like to make use of coupons.

Their first breakfast was at Gramma Butterwicks, and it was early — at 6 a.m. Since then, the two couples have gone on a variety of breakfast outings. They have been to Chase on the Lake in Walker, Minn., and to the Inn at Maple Crossing near Mentor, Minn.

The Nelsons live in rural East Grand Forks. The Belcourts live in Grand Forks. They are members of Bible Baptist Church, and Joe Belcourt is a former principal of Bible Baptist Christian School. Susan is a former dental hygienist. Roger Nelson is a former UPS driver and now does deliveries for Wall's Medicine Center. Sheila Nelson is pianist at Bible Baptist and a piano teacher.

The Belcourts and Nelsons didn't miss their breakfasts together even during the Flood of 1997. Then, the Nelsons found a place to stay in Crookston at the home of a friend. The Belcourts evacuated to the home of her parents in Walhalla, N.D. So the Nelsons drove south through Fargo and back up north to Walhalla in order to keep their breakfast tradition.

The two couples tend to watch their sugar intake. They look for omelettes and whole wheat toast at restaurants. They enjoy the bagels at Caribou with the apple-cinnamon a first choice.

While lattes are featured, Caribou has a small sign showing costs of daily coffee at $1.89, $2.19 and $2.59.

At Caribou, it's serve yourself. Customers move along the service line and make choices from the boards.

"It's a great way to get a day started," says SN. "And not everything here is sweet."

Those who come regularly are used to moving briskly along the counter. Some check out a trivia question in small writing on the wall. They know it's worth 10 cents off of their order.

Recently, the question written on the board behind the counter was, "What fast food chain was founded by Glen Bell in 1962?"

Choices were Taco Bell, Arby's, Chik-fil-A or Wendy's. The correct answer was Taco Bell. If any of the customers bothered to give the right answer it was worth 10 cents.

These days, it seems a dime is not much. Almost forgotten is the old saying about a penny saved being a penny earned.

Caribou Coffee

1225 Columbia Road

Manager: Shawn Haaland

Assistant manager: Tim Knight

Hours: 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Report card: While coffee is the heart of Caribou, the offerings are enhanced by bagels, muffins, scones and egg sandwiches. Many customers linger in comfortable surroundings. Some choose Caribou for lunch meetings. The large parking lot is a plus. Many customers are gone after quick pick-up stops at the outdoor window.