St. Anthony resident writes book about 22-year tradition of weekly family lunches


St. Anthony resident Diane Keyes and her mother, Lorraine Andersen, have been meeting once a week at Wendy’s in Roseville for 22 years. The two are often joined by friends and family. From left, Dottie Johnson, Gary Andersen, Lorraine Andersen, Tom Keyes, Diane Keyes and Jolene Gauss met for lunch on Feb. 2.

Paul Peterson, Wendy’s district manager, and clerk Faith Brennan, take meal orders from Gary Andersen, Dottie Johnson and Diane Keyes at Wendy’s in Roseville Feb. 2.

Diane Keyes wrote a book about the benefits of intentionally eating with family and friends on a weekly basis.

The Keyes and their friends and family have had countless lunches together and have the photos through the years to prove it.

Photos of Diane Keyes and her family hang on the fast-food restaurant’s walls, honoring their loyalty to both family members and their weekly gathering spot.

Four generations come together at Wendy’s

Not everyone goes to fast-food restaurants to slow life down, but one local family has been doing just that ... for 22 years. 

Every Thursday for more than two decades, Diane Keyes, 69, of St. Anthony and her mother, Lorraine Andersen, 94, of Roseville have held weekly get-togethers at the Wendy’s in Roseville. 

The fast-food restaurant in the 1800 block of Perimeter Drive, not far from Rosedale Center, has welcomed their tradition: photos of the family decorate the walls, employees know them by name and vice versa. 

 

‘Open invitation’

These gatherings have grown over the years, as mother and daughter have welcomed their family members and friends, extending the invitation to whoever can make it on any given Thursday just before noon. 

“It’s an open invitation,” Keyes says, noting sometimes it’s as few as three or four people and other times it’s more than 18.

“That’s one nice thing about Wendy’s — you can move the tables around,” Keyes says.

On Thursday, Feb. 2, the duo was joined by Keyes’ husband Tom, 69, brother Gary Andersen, 63, and friends Jolene Gauss, 76, and Dottie Johnson, 69 — all regulars.  

“But you should see in the summers; the median age of the group drops significantly,” Tom Keyes jokes, explaining that their children and grandchildren often join them.

 

Writing it all down

These intentional meetings are near and dear to Diane Keyes — so much so that she’s written a 146-page book about it.

The book, entitled “To Wendy’s with Love: the 22-year lunch,” was published earlier this year by Third Child Press and dives into anecdotes and conversations that, as she says, “have been life-changing” for her family. 

“The story is really about all the things that have happened to our family and all the changes in my own life because of these simple little lunch meetings every week” at Wendy’s.

Though the get-togethers are “simple,” Keyes says that it took time organizing them in the beginning, and her friend Gauss of Shoreview, who’s joined for many years, agrees that it requires effort. 

“It’s about making the commitment and keeping the momentum,” she says, explaining the success of Keyes and Andersen’s lunches. 

But according to all, it’s not just about Keyes and Andersen anymore. 

“They’ve taken me in here,” says Gauss, who lives alone and her three adult children reside in other states. 

“It is for all of us,” Keyes explains. “But it’s always been about Mom,” she adds, while at the Feb. 2 lunch with her mother.

“Well, hey, I am the oldest one here,” Andersen chuckles back.

“And probably the sharpest,” says Johnson, a friend who recently moved back to the Twin Cities from Phoenix, Arizona. Johnson lives in White Bear Lake and says she’s looking forward to becoming a regular member of the lunches. “It’s why I returned,” she jokes. 

 

‘In terms of literacy’

“We live in a fractured world and one thing that’s gone missing is the family table,” Keyes says. “The value of sitting together and eating is incalculable.”

Keyes says research studies have shown that “kids’ IQs are higher, their vocabularies are better, and their ability to converse with adults is greatly enhanced” when they sit, eat and talk with family at the table. 

“They also learn their family history at the table,” Keyes says, explaining that her grandchildren, ages 7 and 9, have been able to develop a strong relationship with their great-grandmother thanks to the weekly lunches. 

“It’s not just birthdays and holidays like it is for many children who have great-grandparents. They’ve got a real close relationship with their great-grandmother and that’s rare."

“I just read that Harvard has a study called the ‘Dinner Table Project,’” Keyes adds, “and through it they’ve found that a child sitting at the table with family and conversing is more valuable than their parents reading to them, in terms of literacy.

“That’s my message,” she says. Dining together at home, at a restaurant or a park — “it doesn’t matter where you do it — but eat together. It’s changed our lives.”

 

Going deeper

Keyes, who’s both a writer and a real-estate stager of for-sale homes, grew up in Roseville. She and Tom lived in Shoreview for 32 years and moved St. Anthony four years ago.. 

She says the lunch dates are not just beneficial for their grandchildren. 

“[The adults’] conversations have gotten much deeper.” She explains that over time, barriers have broken down, and folks have been able to become more vulnerable with each other.

“Initially, conversations were just about the news or something,” she recalls. “And now ... we sometimes spend three hours there.”

Gauss says the group’s discussions “go all over the place. They can go anywhere. And we’re comfortable with that. It can take time to get to a place like this.”

 

‘A different light’

When Keyes was 8 years old, she suffered a brain hemorrhage.

“My life changed dramatically after that,” Keyes says, remembering that she went “from being very active to doing nothing.”

“I was unable to integrate and process what had happened in my life,” she says. “In the 1950s parents didn’t talk to their kids much about that kind of stuff, and I never knew why I was so sullen and unhappy, but I was,” she says, adding that she became bitter towards her parents, “and I carried that through my adult life.”

The mother and daughter say it wasn’t until they began having lunch in 1994 — when Keyes was 47 and her Andersen was 72 — that they were able to connect more deeply, understand each other in a different way, and grow together.

“Out of the house, the mother role and daughter role changed a bit,” Keyes says. “When my mom and I started getting lunch every week, we became just two individuals, in a different light, and it helped me to grow into a place of gratitude and away from bitterness.”

And her book chronicles that. 

“The book is a love letter to Wendy’s.” 

 

Gluten free and still at it

Keyes says the Roseville Wendy’s, in particular, has been an environment where her family’s bonds have strengthened significantly over the years. 

“But it’s really much more than that ... the book is about eating together as a family, and it doesn’t matter when or where.”

According to Keyes, Wendy’s corporation did not endorse her or pay her to write the book, but it did like it — so much so, in fact, that she was given permission to use the Wendy’s logo on the book cover. However, it took about six years to get that permission.

“They’ve been very supportive, but they don’t want to get too deeply involved because they feel like it would taint the message of the story,” Keyes says. Though both Keyes and her husband “went gluten-free” a year and a half ago, they have no plans of ending the weekly lunches. They say Wendy’s still has plenty of options for their diet: chili, salads, baked potatoes and more. 

Besides the food, they cherish relationships with the staff. Some have come and gone over the years, while others remain. 

Keyes says she has valuable relationships with those who don’t join at the table, but work behind the counter. 

And that’s something Paul Peterson, Wendy’s district manager, gets behind. 

“It’s great,” he comments, looking over at the group on Feb. 2. 

“Isn’t it wonderful?” he says of the group gathered in the restaurant, just as they've done for the past 22 years.

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

 

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