MIDDLEBURG – There’s still a faint smell of smoke inside the skeletal remains of Grumpy’s. There were bins of charred vents and ducks in one corner and two men working to rebuild the popular …
MIDDLEBURG – There’s still a faint smell of smoke inside the skeletal remains of Grumpy’s. There were bins of charred vents and ducks in one corner and two men working to rebuild the popular restaurant in the other.
Work on aluminum beams sounded more like a train wreck because there were no walls, tables, counters or customers to absorb the noise.
Nearly eight months after a fire raced through the store on Jan. 19, work finally started to rebuild Grumpy’s on Friday, Sept. 2. It’s progress co-owners Dell and Courtney Hoard have impatiently wanted for months.
“I thought we would start (this) week,” Dell said. “I’m happy we’re already starting. I’m happy with the noise. I can’t wait until we get in there and really start getting it ramped up. Once this (framing) is done, you’ll really start seeing the work happen. Once we get the priming out of the way, we’ll start knocking it out.”
An electrical fire that started in a fan in the dishwashing room quickly turned the diner into a complete loss. The next morning, the Hoards met with 41 employees at the Clay County Sheriff’s Office substation to assure them their jobs would be waiting on them once the rebuild was completed.
What the Hoards didn’t know was the paperwork would take longer than putting the building back into shape.
“We were naïve at the beginning. We really didn’t understand the scope of how bad this was, how long it was going to take,” Dell said. “We were thinking (of reopening in) May, June, July – at the latest. We didn’t understand the significance, the fact it was going to be a total loss.
“Once you have insurance involved, it gets spread out and it takes a lot more time than you ever thought. We started to realize a couple of months in it was going to be a long process.”
With the first of many wall frames now installed, the Hoards finally can look forward.
“Any little bit of progress helps,” Courtney said.
The Hoards now plan a second grand opening on Nov. 21. And they believe at least 30 of their former employees will be back.
Many of the displaced workers were added to the staff at Grumpy’s in Orange Park. A handful went to work at the St. Johns location. Hoard said he worked with several other local restaurants to make sure everyone would get a paycheck during the downtime.
He also hosts monthly dinners to keep everyone posted on the progress. In fact, the group met at V’s Pizza on Fleming Island last weekend.
“We really expect to keep 75-80% of our people,” Dell said. “We need our core to come back and it looks like that’s going to happen. I’m comfortable saying we’re going to have a majority of our people back.
“In the first few months after the fire, we were getting together every week. Now it’s once a month. We want to keep it in the family. We’re a big family, so we make it a point to see everyone so we all still feel like they’re part of this family.”
Doherty Sommers Architects Engineers is responsible for the rebuilding. They were the original firm in charge of the store’s first opening in October 2020.
The Hoards said they won’t make changes to the original layout at 1805 Blanding Blvd., possibly to the dismay of legions of loyal customers who would have liked an expansion.
“When we first started building this store, we built it out of sand,” Dell said. “We had to do all the plumbing, everything. This is going to be a little easier process. That is the worry. We have to test everything out. We don’t want any setbacks.
“The store is going to be the store. We love the location. This is the space that we have. We’re going to keep on doing what we did prior, make sure we stay on our game.”
In less than three months, the sounds of saws, hammers and shrill of metal framing finally will be replaced with clanging dishes, sizzling bacon and the constant buzz of customer banter.
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