Inside Casper's iconic building in downtown Springfield. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

OPINION |

I can’t help but think that my friend Anton Tasich would be pleased to know that another restaurant with a long track record in Springfield would be moving into the building on Glenstone Avenue where he operated Anton’s Coffee Shop for 46 years.

Anton was 88 when he died in January 2020.

Shawn Kraft, who has owned Casper’s (known for its chili) for eight years, is taking over the space.

Casper’s is a Springfield landmark, just like Anton’s once was.

Casper’s has been operating in a tiny “Quonset Hut,” those prefabricated steel structures, at 601 West Walnut St. for 37 years. It opened in Springfield in 1909.

Inside Casper’s iconic building in downtown Springfield. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

The two men knew each other, says Tasich’s widow, Roberta.

“I went in there one time and I told my server that I had heard that my husband’s picture was on display behind the counter (at Casper’s),” Roberta tells me. “She turned around and pointed out where it was.”

Kraft recently told the News-Leader that he was moving to the Glenstone Avenue spot because Casper’s outgrew its current location, wanted a drive-thru and that there were too many maintenance problems with the hut.

A “Casper’s Coming Soon” banner is on the former coffee shop at 937 S. Glenstone.

I went to Casper’s on Friday to see if I could talk to Kraft. He wasn’t there. It was lunchtime so the place was packed; customers waited outside.

Anton’s closed in March 2020, two months after Anton died. The coffee shop’s parking lot for a while was used as a car sales lot.

Anton did not own the property; he owned the building, but not the ground under the building.

Anton had licked cancer twice. First prostate. Then lung.

He never smoked in his life, but he’d worked in enough restaurants to breathe in a lifetime’s worth of second-hand smoke.

Anton Tasich, left, Kaitlyn McConnell, creator of Ozarks Alive and contributor to the Springfield Daily Citizen, and Steve Pokin pose for a photo inside Anton’s Coffee Shop. (Photo was taken with Steve Pokin’s iPhone)

As a result of his battle with lung cancer, Anton was a leading advocate for a sweeping indoor smoking ban passed by Springfield voters in 2011.

He and Roberta were married 49 years. They golfed often at Hickory Hills Country Club and it was Roberta’s idea that he open his own restaurant, and that he feature a 99-cent breakfast to appeal to college kids at nearby Missouri State University.

He did just that, opening on April Fools Day 1974.

They did not have children together, but Anton was married before and had six.

He had to bury three of them. An adult daughter died of a staph infection; an adult son died of cancer; and a son born with a hole in his heart died at age 8.

I met him in 2015 when I stepped into his coffee shop — cash only — for the first time to write a profile of him for the News-Leader.

I laughed a lot and liked him. It was clear to me that he liked me, too.

At that time in his life, he would come into the shop a few times a week and chat with customers. At Christmas time he had gifts for children and, occasionally gifts for friends and customers.

One year, I received an Anton’s ornament.

A zest for life, storytelling and poetry

The former Anton’s Coffee Shop. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Anton had a zest for life, for telling stories — some of them bawdy — and, I would find out, he wrote poetry.

When I was at the News-Leader, for several years the paper hosted an event that featured me as a columnist. It was called Answer Man Live. The first one was in 2015, held on the second floor of Civil Kitchen, a restaurant on the downtown square.

Of course, I invited Anton. But I hesitated and perhaps winced when he told me he wanted to say a few words about me at the event — yet wouldn’t give me a general idea of what he had in mind.

All I could think of was, let’s say, the “earthiness” of his jokes and stories.

I shuddered that night when I saw co-worker Allen Vaughan, who was emcee for the event, hand Anton the microphone in — it seemed to me — slow motion with foreboding music in the background.

Anton then stole the show. He read a funny and touching poem he’d written commemorating our friendship.

I went to one of Anton’s birthday parties and watched him dance the night away. The man seemed indestructible. I thought to myself, I want that energy and that love-of-life in my 80s.

Cancer got Anton the third time around. It was a reoccurrence of lung cancer.

Finding a new home at the former Anton’s

The former Anton’s Coffee Shop. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

I drove by the coffee shop Friday to take a photo. It is a small building — occupancy 65 — but a convention center compared to Casper’s Quonset hut.

There is no drive-thru. Kraft will have to install one for Casper’s.

Funny thing is, Roberta tells me, when they bought the building it had one. It was an ice cream shop that also sold hamburgers.

She and Anton took out the drive-thru.

Roberta tells me Kraft became a regular customer at Anton’s and often chatted with her irrepressible husband.

Kraft has said he will find a way to remember and honor Anton in the new Casper’s on Glenstone.

“I think Anton would be pleased that someone of that caliber was taking over, rather than some Johnny-come-lately,” Roberta says.

“I think it is a good move and I think he will do well in that location,” she adds. “I certainly wish him well and I know Anton would too.”

This is Pokin Around column No. 44.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin