A Dunkin’ Donuts crew in Concord, California, has adopted an 81 year old customer separated from his family and friends as their unofficial “Grandpa”. Gilbert “Gil” Walker, a retired high school teacher of almost 40 years, began making daily coffee trips to the local Dunkin when the pandemic interrupted his regular breakfast get together with friends. After he left them a $280 tip, the staff was so touched by the gesture that they have all adopted him as Grandpa ever since.
Walker began visiting as a way to safely get out of the house during the stay at home orders. Walker and owner Matt Cobo had a conversation that left Walker wanting to help. “I asked … if he had to lay anyone off and he said he had 14 employees and wanted to keep them but had to cut their hours,” Walker said. He started to think of ways he could help, and a little movement was born. On his next visit, Walker presented Cabo with an envelope of $280 cash, or $20 for each staffer. They were so moved by his gesture of kindness, they started calling Walker “Grandpa,” and adopted him as one of their own.
Cobo said that when the first shelter-in-place orders went into effect, “There was this feeling, this emptiness, this uncertainty of what was going to happen. We all felt it. We were scared,” he explained. “What Grandpa did that time was so much more than a gesture of kindness. He made us feel like things were going to be OK.”
Since then, there is a kindness shared between the staff and “Grandpa Gil.” They have signs posted throughout that jokingly read: Anyone who lets “Grandpa” pay is terminated immediately-The Management. “It became a contest of how I could convince them to take my money and them not taking it,” Walker laughed. “We’ve had a lot of maneuvering just to try to get money inside the door.”
Walker’s family even tips the staff off about upcoming events like his birthday or anniversary with his wife, Virginia. When Walker and his wife celebrated 62 years together, the staff set them up with a Dunkin’ smorgasbord in honor of the anniversary. “Holy cow, they’d set up a whole table inside the building, pictures of our wedding, a dozen white roses and food,” Walker said. “They had maple bars in the shape of a heart, it was crazy.”
In September, for Walker’s 81st birthday, the staff surprised him with a party, a sign and gifts in honor of his big day. “They were just all teary-eyed, and when you see that, you’re just like man, our work here is done,” Cobo said. “No one can deserve it more than him … it’s been really fun.” Walker, who has three kids, 13 grandkids and 20 great-grandchildren, said his closest family lives hundreds of miles away. The staff at Dunkin’ Donuts, mostly teens and young adults — have been there for him through this pandemic. “Those kids kind of remind me of my family,” he said. “They’re really nice and just treat me well every single day.”
Cobo said they consider Walker part of their family and the staff are always rushing to the drive-thru window each morning to say hi when “Grandpa” rolls up. “He doesn’t have any grandkids around and that’s part of why I think he’s developed this relationship … Maybe not technically family but we’d love to kind of fill in as his local grandkids. We all just think he’s incredible. There’s people that just have this smile and warmth — you say, ‘This guy is just goodness,’” Cobo explained. “That’s what he is. People catch that and they share that.”