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David Kobos ’66

July 25, 2019 in Oregon City, Oregon.

David played matchmaker to Portland’s love affair with coffee, bringing specialty coffee beans to the city in the early ’70s. He built a thriving business serving a taste-conscious clientele ready for gourmet—whether in their mugs or on their tables—and became the dean of independent bean entrepreneurs.

Born in Salem, Massachusetts, he grew up in an immigrant Polish family. His aunt and grandmother ran a restaurant on the wharf, and his father grew fresh vegetables in the backyard garden.

“Between the restaurant and the garden, I had the best of two worlds in getting a food education,” he recalled. “I really developed a taste for ethnic foods through my grandmother, who was a great cook.”

David attended Harvard University to study medicine, but ended up earning a degree in Russian history with a minor in Slavic languages. After receiving a master of arts in teaching from Reed, he taught U.S. and Russian history at Milwaukie High School in Oregon, where he was Mark Hoyt’s favorite teacher.

“He had the ability to make history come alive,” Hoyt recalled. “He had a brilliant mind and the ability to take complex historical facts and communicate them in a way that was easily understood.”

After three years, David left Milwaukie to join Teachers, Inc., a socially conscious teaching project in New York City. It was there he met his future wife, Susan Kryewinske, who was also a teacher. The school was between Chinatown and Little Italy, and the couple enjoyed cooking together and exploring New York’s ethnic neighborhoods for new foods and cooking ingredients.

They married and honeymooned climbing Mt. St. Helens. A few years later, they decided to start a family, but didn’t want to raise children in New York City. David persuaded Susan that they should move to Portland and open a retail store that carried high-quality coffees, teas, culinary spices, and the kitchen tools they wanted to use. Combining a $17,000 loan from the Small Business Administration with $6,500 of savings, they opened their first store in Portland’s Water Tower retail mall in 1973. For 43 years, they operated and expanded the Kobos Company into a retail and wholesale coffee and cookware business.

David graduated from the Owner/President Management program of the Harvard Business School, was a member of the Reed College alumni board, chaired the Carus school board, and served as president of both the Water Tower Merchants Association and the Skidmore Old Town Merchants Association.

Deemed “the consummate host” by his friends, he enjoyed growing his own vegetables (more than 100 varieties), baking bread, and treating guests to fresh-baked walnut walkaways. Visitors to the house would be serenaded by the geese, chickens, and sheep that roamed the three-acre farm. As he prepared the dinner, David discussed farm stories he was writing, recited a favorite poem, or counted down the days until the next Ducks game.

“People want fresh ingredients, no chemicals, and no preservatives in their food today,” he said. “We’re simply giving them the kind of food my grandmother taught me how to cook.”

David loved Faulkner and believed wealth was the richness of his business and personal relationships. He is survived by his wife, Susan; his children, Adam, Nora, and Julia; and his siblings, Donald and Tricia.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2019

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