50 years sober, Greg Ekbom celebrates the Day by Day Cafe he based whereas nonetheless in therapy – Twin Cities
Greg Ekbom, entrance, retired proprietor of Day by Day Café, talks about how the St. Paul restaurant has grown by means of the years on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. Ekbom began the cafe as whereas nonetheless in restoration and created a protected and welcoming place for these in restoration. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)
Hooked on onerous medication, Greg Ekbom overdosed greater than as soon as, finally touchdown in a hospital in a coma-like state.
“Once I awakened, I didn’t actually know the place I used to be,” stated Ekbom, recalling the terrifying however fateful day 50 years in the past that despatched him on the rocky path to longtime sobriety.
It began with a methadone program, which was depressing.
“That was the underside. That was the worst,” recalled Ekbom, who had dropped out of a cooking program at a remedial expertise middle in Minneapolis on the time. “The federal government was giving me medication. You bought in hassle in case you didn’t present up and do your medication on a regular basis. It was mainly to maintain you from committing crimes.”
With the assistance of county social companies, Ekbom moved into the storied Hazelden Habit Therapy Middle, however even their counselors couldn’t attain him.
“I wasn’t fairly prepared. I used to be type of a screw-off at Hazelden,” he stated. After 10 days, he acquired a referral to an outpatient therapy middle on St. Paul’s West Seventh Road, which after a yr employed Ekbom and another enrollees to arrange the middle’s lunches out of a kitchen adjoining a close-by sandwich store.
A seed was planted. And 48 years in the past, within the landmark previous eating automobile on West Seventh Road at Superior Road, an early model of Ekbom’s celebrated Day by Day Cafe was born, its title impressed by a tenet of the recovering-community’s liturgy.
In 1980, 5 years after its opening, the cafe moved into a close-by brick constructing at West Seventh and Goodrich Road that Ekbom purchased out of foreclosures, and it quickly grew right into a lifeline for former addicts in restoration, who’ve comprised between 30% and 70% of its employees and any variety of its prospects on any given yr. It’s additionally been a lifeline for Ekbom, who nonetheless attends common dependancy restoration conferences even 50 years into his journey into sobriety. He nonetheless describes himself as actively “in restoration,” current tense.
“There are individuals who say ‘recovered.’ However I don’t,” Ekbom stated. “There are individuals who have long-term sobriety who fall again.”
Every time he was brief on employees, Ekbom used to name a restoration midway home related to Hazelden, or get referrals from workers who had been already dwelling there. At one level, an inflow of artsy, generally well-heeled New Yorkers to Hazelden — suppose musicians and actors — resulted in some fascinating additions.
“Individuals known as it ‘Minne-sober,’” recalled Ekbom. “They don’t need to return dwelling proper after therapy, which is often 30 days. They had been fairly gifted individuals. … At one time, I had two psychiatrists making use of for a dishwashing job on the identical time. One was the top of some psychiatric hospital or faculty, and he stated ‘I’d admire it in case you didn’t name my earlier employer.’ In fact I wouldn’t name them.”
Life after dependancy
Being surrounded by so many former addicts — together with some who relapsed — solely strengthened his dedication to the restaurant, which served as energetic proof to doubters of life after dependancy.
“For me, I believe I won’t have stayed sober,” Ekbom stated. “Working with fellow recovering individuals I’ve typically felt was a profit to my very own restoration. There’s hope, for certain. Some 50 years in the past, we didn’t have fentanyl then, however there was all types of heroin issues. Again then, it was type of like ‘as soon as a heroin addict, all the time a heroin addict.’ That wasn’t actually true, but it surely was some individuals’s pondering. Fentanyl has solely made it worse. I do know a variety of recovering heroin addicts. And I do know lots who died.”
Ekbom formally retired virtually a decade in the past and moved to Osceola, Wis., however he nonetheless is available in now and again to assist his two grownup kids with the restaurant, which stays open from 7 a.m. to three p.m., seven days per week, year-round aside from Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Its buckwheat pancakes and do-it-yourself granola stay fashionable attracts.
“All the pieces’s created from scratch — sausage gravy, salsa, our soups and chilis,” stated Ekbom’s daughter Gena Ekbom, who has been managing the restaurant together with her youthful brother John since 2006. “We don’t do any boxed meals.”
“I grew up with the restaurant,” stated Gena. “Once I was in highschool, if I bought in hassle, I must wash dishes on the weekend.”
As of late, her twin son and daughter every work the restaurant together with her, every one taking a distinct day of the weekend.
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, the restaurant hit powerful instances, a well-recognized place for most of the Day by Day Cafe’s workers and regulars. Ekbom discovered himself flunking out of retirement and leaping again in to assist.
“For 3 years, we misplaced a considerable sum of money,” stated Ekbom on Wednesday. “I believe this yr we’re again to the place issues had been pre-COVID.”
Gratitude for many who helped him on his journey
On Monday, family and friends will toast Ekbom’s 50 years of sobriety and the Day by Day Cafe’s 48 years in operation. As toasts go, it is going to be missing in champagne or wine. As a substitute, Ekbom hopes to serve up beneficiant helpings of hope.
“He’s similar to an easy-going man,” Gena stated. “He’s not in search of something or anticipating something. However to me, if he didn’t keep sober, I wouldn’t be right here and the restaurant wouldn’t be right here. His sobriety birthday is extra necessary than a daily birthday. He nonetheless goes to conferences and continues to be very energetic in serving to individuals, and all the time has nice recommendation for many who need assistance.”
In a season of giving thanks, Ekbom is feeling loads of gratitude for many who have helped him on his journey, and the restaurant that serves nearly as good a metaphor as any for his steps alongside that journey.
“Once I purchased that constructing it was condemned,” Ekbom recalled. “It was one of many worst buildings on one of many worst blocks again in ’79. And now it’s a terrific constructing on a great block.”