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A collection that ‘came out of nowhere’

Cold Spring woman has 300+ sets of S&P shakers

By Bill Vossler

This is the pair of salt and pepper shakers that got the whole (huge) collection going, brought to Kaity Kramer at Red River Inn Cafe by Reuben, her kids’ grandfather, which made them special. Photo by Bill Vossler

Kaity Kramer of Cold Spring claims she is not a collector. Yet she has more than 300 sets of salt and pepper shakers from all over the world on shelves in her cafe in Cold Spring. 

“I am definitely not normally a collector of things,” she said. “And never in a million years did I expect that things would end up like this. I don’t collect things--other than the salt and pepper shakers now. And that came out of nowhere.”

One of her copy guys, Reuben, was in Florida watching his grandson play baseball. “When he came back he handed me a pair of shakers and said, ‘Here. I brought these back for you to put on the round table.’ They looked okay, so I said ‘thank you.’ I own a café, and we can always use salt and pepper shakers. He was 86 at the time, and it was kind of him.”

That was six years ago, and since then, shakers have come to Kaity on average of one per week. “It goes in streaks,” she said. “We’ll go for a while without getting any, and end up with a couple or more in one week, and they are definitely still coming.”

They come from all over the United States, and different places in the world, like Ireland, Honduras, Paris, and so on. 

“Once people started bringing sets back and they were put at different tables, customers noticed they were different, and asked questions about them. Then when my staff went on vacation they each brought back a set.

A few of the many unique salt and pepper shakers that can be found at Kaity’s cafe (Red River Inn) in Cold Spring. Photos by Bill Vossler

“They see salt and pepper shakers, they think of the restaurant, which is neat too. One lady brings in a set every time she comes in. She said, ‘I feel like I have to find a set for you every time before I can come back.’

“Some customers said, ‘I’m going to go here, or there, and while I’m there I’m going to look for a set for you.’ So whenever my regulars were on vacation and they saw salt and pepper shakers, they thought of the restaurant, which is neat. They usually say they were looking for something different, that they could bring back to the restaurant. That has been very moving for me.

“Once all the tables were full of salt and pepper shakers, Arnie, one of my guys, built me a shelf, and I thought it would take a while to get full. But it was full instantly. So he built me another shelf that is absolutely gorgeous, and that got full. Then a top shelf, which filled, and now there are a couple of trays with shakers on them, but aren’t out right now.”

With Arnie building shelves, and customers’ love of finding sets of salt and pepper shakers for Kaity, it becomes clear how personal her little café is, as she warns people to drive carefully when she’s heard streets are icy, asks them about their grandchildren, talks with them about their physical problems--more of a friend than a café owner. “My customers are very precious to me,” she said.

A few of the many unique salt and pepper shakers that can be found at Kaity’s cafe (Red River Inn) in Cold Spring. Photos by Bill Vossler

Kaity said she has had some sets stolen. “After the first one I was really bummed out. It was two sheep on a little tray, and they were given to me by someone who brought them from Ireland. I noticed one Monday morning that just the tray was there, and the two sheep were missing. We searched high and low and never found them. The people who were at that table had never been in before. I have noticed that a couple of other sets have been stolen. I don’t notice that they are missing until I go to tell a story about a set, and look for them, and can’t find them.”

She said she keeps some of her sets in a closed container, “because I know somebody would probably steal them, like the Harley Davidson set, and a mailman set. I keep those hidden away on purpose. What’s kind of funny is that my customers get upset when a set is stolen.”

Kaity’s only regret is that she didn’t start writing down who brought what set and where they come from. “In the beginning I could tell who and where, but now with more than 300 sets, I’m starting to forget some of them.”

They all come with a purpose of gifting, she said. “It’s really a community thing, and not just for me. But for my customers. Like little kids will come in and go around and look for certain ones, and people will say, ‘We remember grandma and grandpa collected salt and pepper shakers, but not like this. Other people will say, ‘We want to sit at this table because of this set.’”

A few of the many unique salt and pepper shakers that can be found at Kaity’s cafe (Red River Inn) in Cold Spring. Photos by Bill Vossler

Some people have wanted to buy some sets, figuring with so many she wouldn’t mind. But she does mind. “Some people have gotten upset, but my reason for not selling them is simply because they are gifts. They all have sentimental meaning to me. My customers mean the world to me, and some of the sets remind me of people I haven’t seen, or some who have died, so when I see those sets, I think about them. My regulars are near and dear to my heart.”

She has had to turn down some offers, however. “One lady asked if she could bring her mother-in-law’s collection. But she said there were four or five boxes full, so I said no. I don’t want whole collections. That takes away from the purpose. This isn’t a drop-off spot for a collection. Each set means something to me because it was individually purposely chosen.”

Kaity said it’s amazing the things that can be made into salt and pepper shakers. “One unique one from a cook who worked for me for quite a few years. On his last day he gave me a gift and a card--a salt and pepper set with a picture of himself pasted on it. It makes me chuckle, and to me it meant the world.”

The shakers get moved around. “We now have enough for each holiday season, like Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, or vacation ones, like those that came from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, or summer ones. Basically holiday and seasonal, so we’ll rotate them and put different ones on each table and booth.”

A few of the many unique salt and pepper shakers that can be found at Kaity’s cafe (Red River Inn) in Cold Spring. Photos by Bill Vossler

She said people will come in and ask for “their” set. “They say ‘We want to use ours, the ones we brought in. One girl looked for hers all over the place, but it had gotten broken. I glued it back together, as I do with any that get broken, and use them only for display. I had to tell her it was broken, but she could still play with it.”

Several shakers have been broken, Kaity said. “The shakers look like toys to kids, so they play with them and have a good time. I’m okay with that. If they break one, it doesn’t upset me. I’ll glue it back together and retire it to a spot.”

People love the sets, Kaity said. “They think it’s clever, and it sparks memories. One man said, ‘Boy, you have a lot of knickknacks here. What does your house look like?’ I had to laugh. I told him they weren’t knickknacks, but salt and pepper shakers. But for the most part, people think it’s neat and love it.”

Kaity has her favorites. “That doesn’t always stay the same, though. I’ll say, ‘This set is one of my favorites,’ and then see another set or have a new one brought in and say, ‘Oh, no, that’s my favorite now.’”

But she does have some always favorites. “One is a spoon and fork set sent to me by my best friend in Chicago. She said, ‘I have to have it for her.’ I rarely get to see her nowadays, but I think of her when I see it. Another one is a bike with a salt and pepper shaker, and a plastic camel with humps that are salt and pepper.”

A few of the many unique salt and pepper shakers that can be found at Kaity’s cafe (Red River Inn) in Cold Spring. Photos by Bill Vossler

One unique set is of an older man and woman. “When the pepper man is used, he sneezes, and when the woman is used, she says, ‘Gesundheit.’ I think that’s hilarious. Then there is the glitter set, given to me by a woman who always has glitter on her glasses, and sometimes on her clothes. These shakers were handmade, and have a large P and S on them. The first initials of her first and last name are P and S, so her young daughter said, ‘Mom, how come you put your initials on the salt and pepper shakers.”

Another set is of potatoes with an island name. “I never knew anything about them, until a couple told me about their vacation on that island. That set has another story. There’s a very sweet old man who comes in and threatens that he’s going to steal them, and take them home with him, so I yell out to my other customers to make sure they frisk that man on his way out, and they all laugh. I know he would never steal them, but it’s a joke we play around with.”

Kaity said she is most surprised about how many things can be made into salt and pepper shakers. “The different types of sets that are made just truly amazes me, and what also amazes me is how large our collection has gotten, and how many shakers there are in the world.”

A few of the many unique salt and pepper shakers that can be found at Kaity’s cafe (Red River Inn) in Cold Spring. Photos by Bill Vossler

“My biggest thing I love about them is the sentimental reasons customers got them for me. My customers mean the absolute world to me, and I just love the people who bought them for me, and afterwards, the memories that they bring. People and my customers mean a lot to me, and it’s kind of cool to have reminders of so many people.”

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