December 30, 1988
Gabby’s crowd covers Lakeside news and more
By J.P. Furst, News-Tribune staff writer
"How you doin’, Jer?"
"Threw my back out carrying Christmas presents," Jerry answered, reaching back to crack his vertabrae.
That introduced the subject of old age and mortality to the men gathered last week at the counter in Gabby’s Place, a culinary landmark in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood. Like most great cafes, Gabby’s has a breakfast club of regulars who chew over the day’s headlines.
"Father Time," muttered one older man. "The Grim Reaper."
That’s all he said.
It was enough.
"This is where we solve all the problems of the world," cracked waitress Louise Hounsell. "Isn’t it, Sig?" Sig Einbu is the older guy mumbling about the Reaper. He nodded with some certainty.
Gabby’s Place, at 431 N. 45th Ave. E, is one of just a few cafes east of 27th Avenue East in Duluth. It’s been a neighborhood hangout, under one name or another, since 1939.
"This is the gathering place for the Lakeside community to get together and catch up on what’s going on," Hounsell said. She should know. She’s been serving up meals at the cafe for 12 years.
"When we bought the cafe, the previous owner told me that Louise came with it," said Marty Gaboury, owner of the shop with her husband since last February. "They said if I ever sold it, you have to leave her here when you go."
Louise laughed and said, "I got passed on with the restaurant. I’m not sure how legal it all is." But she comes in only once a week now. "I just can’t stay away. I miss these guys," she said, gesturing with her thumb toward the men at the counter.
The green Formica counter is the L-shaped centerpiece of Gabby’s. Its edges have been worn smooth by generations of elbows at rest. The big windows look out on East Superior and on the North Shore beyond.
The place feels like it’s on the edge of the woods, not at all in the city. "It’s a small town out here in Lakeside," Marty said. "The people here are just great people."
The previous owner had the place for about 13 years, Louise noted as she pulled out her red leather cigarette pouch. But he also worked on the lake boats, and he eventually returned to the boats full time when he sold the eatery.
"He stops in whenever he’s in town," Marty said. "All six of the previous owners have stopped by now, including the woman who opened it in 1939." And some of the original customers still come by.
Marty Gaboury runs the cafe while her husband John, a Navy man, is stationed in Norfolk, Va. Last week he was home for the holidays. They came to Duluth in 1985 when he was assigned to the Naval Reserve Center here. Marty waited tables and cooked in a couple of restaurants and was an assistant manager at Woolworth’s cafeteria downtown before they bought the Lakeside cafe, remodeled it and changed the name from the Corner Cafe to Gabby’s, short for Gaboury.
The daily cast of characters at Gabby’s includes the owner of the Loop Super Valu, Virgil Dock, who comes in wearing his white grocer’s apron and carries dice in his pocket. "He and his friends shake dice to see who pays for the coffee," Marty said.
The cast also includes Sig, a vital-looking man in his late 70s, dressed in a red-plaid wool jacket and a baseball-style cap with earflaps. He eats his breakfast at Gabby’s every morning, occasionally stops back at lunch and sometimes makes a third visit at the end of the day.
Next on the morning’s agenda of problems to be discussed: The weather. The cold winter coming. Everybody had both a gripe and a word of respect for the change of season.
"I don’t like that below-zero stuff," Sig said, digging into his steaming breakfast.
"I don’t mind 20 below," remarked his neighbor at the counter, a younger man in a navy-blue cardigan. "If it gets much colder than that, I know the difference." He glanced out the large windows at the dark but temperate morning outside. "This is something we can live with, today."
Marty’s husband expects to retire in three years. Then she’ll have a little more help in keeping the place going.
"If I can build it up, we’ll keep going," said Marty, 54. "They’re a pretty nice bunch that hangs around here."