Grumpy's Restaurant in Middleburg 'to build back stronger' after devastating fire

·6 min read

A popular family-owned Middleburg restaurant is starting down what might be a months-long road to recovery from a devastating fire last week.

Grumpy's Restaurant, known for its hearty, made-to-order homestyle breakfast and lunch, was severely damaged when a fire possibly sparked by an electrical issue swept through the restaurant at 1805 Blanding Blvd. on Wednesday, Jan. 19.

No one was hurt in the fire reported about 7:50 p.m. — nearly four hours after the business closed for the day. Grumpy's was empty when an employee at a neighboring business smelled smoke and called Clay County Fire Rescue, Daniel DeLeon, president and CEO of Grumpy's Restaurant, told the Times-Union on Saturday.

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"It's looking like it will be determined as accidental. It's looking like it was something electrical in the prep room," De Leon said of the area at the back of the kitchen. It wasn't on the cook line or any major equipment, he said.

DeLeon said there were only small items in the area where it started, which was all the way on the back wall of the restaurant. As yet undetermined, is what started it. The state Fire Marshal's Office is investigating, he said.

The restaurant has a fire suppression system but the building doesn't have a sprinkler system. The fire suppression system activated and stopped air from coming into the building to feed the fire so it didn't spread to the fryers, which would have made the blaze worse, DeLeon said.

"Our No. 10 cans of green beans and corn exploded," he said of the intensity of the fire. "The flames didn't get to the dining room but we did have a lot of water, soot and damages like that."

They haven't been able to salvage much from the building, he said.

"It's pretty much a total loss," DeLeon said.

However, two items survived: a wooden cross that hung above the restaurant office and an American Flag bearing challenge coins.

Franchise co-owners Dell and Peggy Hoard look over the aftermath of the  Jan. 19 fire that severely damaged their Grumpy's Restaurant in Middleburg.
Franchise co-owners Dell and Peggy Hoard look over the aftermath of the Jan. 19 fire that severely damaged their Grumpy's Restaurant in Middleburg.

DeLeon said they hope to be able to reopen the Middleburg diner in three months.

"We are going to build back stronger," DeLeon said.

DeLeon and his wife, Morgan, bought the original Grumpy's Restaurant four years ago. They brought it back from the brink of closure and are now offering franchises.

The Middleburg restaurant is Grumpy's first franchise. Co-owned by Dell Hoard Sr., his wife, Peggy, their son, Dell Jr., and his wife, Courtney, the Middleburg diner opened in October 2020.

Grumpy's second franchise opened in August 2021 in St. Johns County. Two new franchises should open by the end of 2022. They include Grumpy's at the Crossings at Wildlight in Yulee in May followed by one in the World Golf Village area.

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Even though the repair process might be done relatively quickly, they still will have to go through the permitting process and inspections before they can open, DeLeon said.

About 40 people work at the Middleburg restaurant.

"Our No. 1 goal is for 100 percent of them to remain employed …That's our No. 1 commitment to make sure we don't leave our employees stranded," DeLeon said.

Some of the staff will go to the original Orange Park restaurant while others will be at the St. Johns diner so they will keep getting a paycheck until the reopening, he said.

"Our second goal is to build back stronger. We want to build the restaurant and make it this great place that is better than it was before," he said.

The Grumpy's family won't be alone as the restaurant works to reopen

Fire heavily damaged Grumpy's Restaurant, 1805 Blanding Blvd. in Middleburg on Jan. 19. The state Fire Marshal's Office is investigating the cause and origin of the blaze. Owners of the popular breakfast and lunch restaurant say it will rebuild and reopen.
Fire heavily damaged Grumpy's Restaurant, 1805 Blanding Blvd. in Middleburg on Jan. 19. The state Fire Marshal's Office is investigating the cause and origin of the blaze. Owners of the popular breakfast and lunch restaurant say it will rebuild and reopen.

'Outpouring of love and support'

Sunday mornings, Rich Klinzman and his brother usually can be found having breakfast at Grumpy's.

The restaurant is more than just a diner serving up good, he told the Times-Union on Saturday.

It's the heartbeat of Middleburg, Klinzman said.

"I am usually averse to waiting in a line for any reason, but I make an exception for Grumpy’s," said Klinzman, noting the restaurant's homestyle cooking and hospitality mean there's typically a line waiting to be seated.

French toast is Klinzman's breakfast favorite.

"There are so many other great selections and I have been sampling them all. There is not a bad choice on the menu, he said.

He and others welcomed the news that Grumpy's will rebuild and reopen as quickly as possible.

The outpouring of love and support from the community for the Hoard family and restaurant employees "has been overwhelming," DeLeon said.

"Chick-fil-A donated food for our staff meeting right after the fire. Starbucks bringing coffee, Dunkin bringing donuts and Walmart paid for all our cleanup," he said. Support from residents is pouring in with many offers from people who heard about the fire on social media.

"I don't know these people. Dell doesn't know them. And it's all out of 100 percent love for the restaurant and the Grumpy's family, all the crew members and team members," DeLeon said. "It's hundreds of people. I didn't realize so many people would reach out."

Following the fire at Grumpy's, area residents and businesses are showing their support for the restaurant's owners and employees.
Following the fire at Grumpy's, area residents and businesses are showing their support for the restaurant's owners and employees.

DeLeon said many businesses have reached out to them offering help. Messages and photos showing their support have filled social media such as tagged #grumpysstrong since the fire.

"One of the greatest things is that people are saying I don't have anything to give or donate, but I do have time to help out, 'help you guys clean up'. That is amazing, people wanting to help us clean up. Your personal time is the most valuable thing you have, and for people to donate that is just amazing."

Help also is coming in the form of donations.

"Help Support Our Local Middleburg Grumpy's" — a GoFundMe online fundraiser — was launched Friday to raise money to help the restaurant's employees until the diner reopens. A longtime family friend, Leah Currie started the online fundraiser.

"Our Middleburg Grumpy's quickly became a loved spot for excellent and unique breakfast and lunch entrees, a warm and friendly place to gather, with a staff that genuinely cares," Currie, also a small business owner, wrote on the fundraiser page.

The Hoard family, she noted, overcame the obstacles of the COVID-19 pandemic to open the restaurant, which quickly became a mainstay in the close-knit community.

"They pushed through the challenges of opening a new business, worked hard, and sacrificed time with their small children as they continued to build their dream," said, calling on the community to support them and restaurant employees in their time of need.

A  Jan. 19 fire severely damaged Grumpy's Restaurant in Middleburg. The restaurant owners plan to rebuild and reopen the diner in about three months.
A Jan. 19 fire severely damaged Grumpy's Restaurant in Middleburg. The restaurant owners plan to rebuild and reopen the diner in about three months.

DeLeon said there won't be any major changes when they rebuild the Middleburg restaurant, which has about 112 seats.

"We'll rebuild to exactly what we had. We're not really looking to change too much because the store was so new anyway and there is not much that we want to change. But we will make it a little bit better anyway that we can," he said.

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This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: After fire, Grumpy's Restaurant in Middleburg plans to rebuild, reopen

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