David Moreau, whose coffee shop and ice cream parlor Grumpy’s was a downtown Riverside institution for nearly 20 years, died Dec. 3, 2022, at his Riverside home. He was 75 years old.
Mr. Moreau was not a corner shop proprietor by nature. His pre-Grumpy’s career was spent as a brakeman for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. After retiring from that job, Moreau landed a job as the manager of a restaurant called the Refectory Café in The Arcade Building in downtown Riverside.
The restaurant, which opened in April 1994, was owned by Peter Sahlas, who at the time also owned the historic Arcade Building. Kim Palka, who would work alongside Moreau at Grumpy’s from the day it opened until the day it closed, worked as a waitress at the Refectory.
“He was a pain in the ass manager, but after a couple of months we hit it off and started dating on and off for 20 years,” Palka said. We mutually split up but have been best friends ever since. He was like a stepfather to my daughter [Lauren].”
A corner space in the Arcade Building served as the ice cream supply room for the Refectory, according to Palka, but it wasn’t open to the public. Moreau took over the corner storefront around 1994-95.
The Refectory Café closed its doors in August 1996 and would become the Chew Chew Café under the ownership of Scott Zimmer.
Moreau remained as a tenant in the corner storefront, running a “Name that Ice Cream Parlor” advertisement in the Landmark for several weeks in late 1995. Philip Walsh announced that Moreau had decided upon “Grumpy’s” as the name for the business, noting in his Nov. 9 column in the Landmark that Moreau “has expanded its venue to fine coffee, cappuccinos and pastries.”
While the popular belief was that Grumpy’s was named after Moreau – he would say jokingly that he named it after his customers – the name came from “Grumpy Old Men,” the title of a popular 1993 movie that Moreau particularly enjoyed.
“He wasn’t really grumpy,” said Larry Baron, who would become a close friend of Moreau’s after Grumpy’s closed at the end of 2013. “He would say hi to everybody. He was a really friendly guy.”
Grumpy’s became more than a corner coffee shop, and it drew a loyal cast of regulars, like Sue Kanz and her mother, Victoria Michels, who lived nearby on East Quincy Street.
“I would take her there before going to work every morning and we’d sit outside,” said Kanz, who remained a close friend. “You can’t beat a view of the water tower.”
Grumpy’s would play host to an annual Halloween Party and birthday parties. Kanz hosted a 90th birthday party for her mom at Grumpy’s
“To this day people say it was an icon in this town, a site to meet,” Palka said. “We were an ‘everything place.’ We threw parties. We still keep in touch with the people from there.”
The road was not always a smooth one. In 2008, after Sahlas had sold the Arcade Building, the property was caught up in an international Ponzi scheme. The building, which had been slated to be converted into condominiums, was placed into receivership and fell into disrepair with Grumpy’s the lone remaining tenant.
That November, Grumpy’s was forced out of the space, but Moreau secured a new location at 35 E. Burlington St. in January 2009. While it remained in downtown Riverside, Grumpy’s would never really be the same.
Zimmer ended up buying the Burlington Street property, which now houses Sawmilly, and Grumpy’s closed for good at the end of December 2013.
“I remember the day we found out we had to clear out, and we just stood in the basement and cried for an hour and a half,” Palka said.
Moreau may have left the coffee shop business, but he couldn’t stay away from the coffee klatch. He soon wound up finding kindred spirits at Locha Mocha in Brookfield and would ride his bike there most days from his home on the western edge of Riverside.
“Dave didn’t always come,” said Baron. “But it was better when he was there.”
If Moreau was a no-show, according to Baron, “I’d call and ask, ‘Are you coming today?’ Like a job. I’d always watch out the window to see if he was coming on his bike.”
Moreau and Baron were the coffee klatch’s pranksters, at one point putting a gag sign post on the Brookfield train platform directing commuters to the zoo, New York, Los Angeles and, of course, “coffee.” The sign lasted four days before it was removed.
The duo was also responsible for hanging signs around the neck of the cow atop the shuttered Brookfield Restaurant on Ogden Avenue.
“He was my lookout. I’d say, ‘You watch for the cops, I’ll do the deed,’” Baron said.
A memorial gathering is planned for Friday, Dec. 9 from 10 to 11:45 a.m. at Ivins/Moravecek Funeral Home, 80 E. Burlington St., Riverside, followed by a funeral Mass at noon at St. Mary Church, 126 Herrick Road, Riverside.