David Morgan said he fell apart when his wife died of ovarian cancer last year, leaving him at a personal crossroads — and leaving in doubt the future of two establishments that border The Avenue in Hampden like bookends.
Morgan soon shuttered David's Restaurant and Deli, at 3626 Falls Road (the old High's Dairy), a low-key, corner eatery with a mainstream menu, which he and his wife, Joann, had run since 2006. It was best known for its two-of-everything breakfast called the David's Special.
And rumors surfaced — all true, he admits — that he was negotiating to sell the Hampden Republican Club at 3535 Chestnut Ave.
"It was all about my wife," he said.
But now, Morgan, 71, is back in action.
He has taken the club building off the market for the time being, is reopening David's Restaurant and Deli in the next four to six weeks, and is expanding the restaurant into the vacant former Train and Toy World store next door.
"I like to work," said the retired printer, who lives in Hampden. "I feel good, other than my knees."
He is also applying for a beer and wine license in his name (the old one was in his wife's name) and is not expected to face Hampden community opposition, in a nonresidential area, said Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association.
A hearing before the Baltimore City liquor board will be set for May, said board spokesman Douglas Paige. He said he sees no problems with the application.
Morgan said he hopes to open the expanded space in six months. The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, including the hearty David's Special.
"If you can eat it," he said. "I can't."
Morgan, a member of the Grand Old Party, said he might yet sell the iconic Republican club building, built in 1936, once home to the Hampden Democratic Club and an Acme food store before he bought it in 1995.
"It's a grand old building," he said, but "a big waste of time" as a Republican club in Baltimore, where registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans.
Morgan said he was negotiating with investors earlier this year about opening a Jewish-style deli there, but he hasn't heard from them in awhile, and assumes the deal fell through.
He said he took the building off the market but is still listening to offers.
"Everything has a price," he said.
But a report in the May issue of Baltimore Magazine, headlined, "A curious piece of Baltimore's political history fades away," may be premature.
Morgan is talking about catering at the club by using the kitchen at David's.
He sounds like a man sitting on prime property.
"Hampden is the hot neighborhood and this is the largest building in the neighborhood," he said.
Flowers and kegs
But his focus is on reopening and expanding David's into the old train store. He rents both of the retail spaces from Caribbean Products, which owns the building on Falls Road.
Nine months after the restaurant closed, the walls are repainted from a gray-white to a sunny yellow, and a local artist, Larry Schlechter was painting a mural on Friday of local landmarks, such as the London Fog factory of old.
Otherwise, David's looks pretty much as it did before his wife died, as if taken out of mothballs.
Flowers sit in vases on its 10 wooden tables. Ceiling fans and the long lunch counter are still there, as are figurines, old greeting cards and other tchotchkes in the window. What sounds like a knock at the front door is the familiar green awning flapping in the wind. A framed painting hangs by the door, on a part of the wall that he plans to knock through into the Train and Toy World space.
That space is a clutter, except for an imposing curved wooden bar that Morgan has already moved in. He is also installing a five-keg tap system, he said.
Morgan said he plans to jazz up the menu, with a few dinner entrees and a special crab soup, made by a local chef who plans to sell it online. He also plans to make the eatery a showcase for local artwork and photography.
Morgan hopes to draw customers from the eclectic mix of businesses around him, including Hampden Christian School, 7-Eleven, Doubledutch Boutique, Atomic Books, a Cricket phone store and a methadone clinic.
"I think it's a terrific mix," he said.
And he's not worried about getting customers from the methadone clinic on the same block. If they panhandle or cause trouble, he's prepared to take action.
"They don't know me," he warned, adding that he's spoken with a manager of the clinic about his plans to reopen the restaurant.
Ray, the merchants' association president and owner of Atomic Books next to David's, said he would like an eatery again on his end of The Avenue. An empty storefront does the neighborhood no good, Ray said.
"The longer that restaurant sits dormant, the more it hurts (area) businesses," Ray said.
He noted that some people have been stopping into his book and comics store, asking if David's is reopening, or if the space is for rent.
Ray also said he would welcome a more vibrant menu at David's.
Morgan, a longtime Hampdenite who has 14 siblings and whose father was a steel mill worker, thinks of David's as having the soul of a diner.
"My place is like a stainless steel eatery like you see on Route 50," he said.
He wants David's to succeed so he can leave it to his children.
"It's all about your kids and your grandchildren," he said.
But at the least, he said, it will be "a place to hang out with my buddies until God takes me off this earth."