It was the Cheers of Campustown — only with coffee as the drink du jour.
Thirty years later, Bertrand Clarke can still provide detailed descriptions of the regulars at The Daily Grind, where “everyone knew everyone — or at least recognized everyone.
“It was run by a Korean couple, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, who were always friendly," recalls the University of Nebraska professor. "Many times, I was there and the phone would ring and Mr. Lee would pick it up and then yell to the crowd: ‘John Smith! Is John Smith here?’ — whoever John Smith may have been at the time. As often as not, John Smith was there and if he was, Mr. Lee would hand him the phone.
“The Daily Grind was a sort of focal point for all of us. The stylish people who smoked black Sobranies. The Bohemians who smoked clove cigarettes. The people from one cultural background who had fallen in love with another culture.
“Then there were the people who were a little paradoxical in and of themselves. The nuclear engineer who was active in the Communist Party. The French woman who was a little too fascinated by matches. The older divorced English woman who wanted to find out what it was like not to live in a class system.
“And so on. I remember them with great fondness.
“I know the Daily Grind is long closed, but for years after I left Champaign I still visited and ritualistically had a cup of coffee there, even though I knew fewer and fewer people as the years passed. During that time, I often thought of calling the Daily Grand and asking for myself.
"I bet Mr. Lee would have yelled to the crowd: ‘Bertrand! Is Bertrand here!’ — and then turned back to the phone to say ‘He’s not here right now. Call back tomorrow afternoon, maybe you’ll catch him.’”