Jeff Moreau, owner of Sweet Moses, discusses the merits of owning a business in the Detroit Shoreway Gordon Square Arts District. He provides, in rich detail, his creative process in constructing the atmosphere of his authentic 1920s-30s soda fountain and treat shop. He further shares his hopes for the Gordon Arts District, Detroit Shoreway as a whole, and the future of his successful business. Moreau has found community engagement gratifying. He took his dream of owning a small business and turned it into a destination which encourages further economic investment into the neighborhood and helps sustain the essence of what made Detroit Shoreway a neighborhood in the first place.
Moreau, Jeff (interviewee)
Nemeth, Sarah (interviewer)
Transcription sponsored by Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization
Sarah Nemeth [00:00:01] Hi, my name is Sarah Nemeth. I'm here today with Jeff Moreau of Sweet Moses. Today is August 9, 2017. We're at the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization offices. This is for the Cleveland Regional Oral History Project. Could you please state your name for the record?
Jeff Moreau [00:00:19] Jeff Moreau.
Sarah Nemeth [00:00:21] Okay. And where were you born and when?
Jeff Moreau [00:00:23] I was born in Parma, Ohio, in 1965, January 8th, and lived there till I was about 8 years old.
Sarah Nemeth [00:00:35] OK. What do you remember from living in Parma?
Jeff Moreau [00:00:40] Well, I'm the youngest of eight kids. So when, you know, at that point, my world was pretty much, you know, my block and my neighbors and what what was around there a little bit. I do... When we moved though, the first time I moved, we moved to the East Coast to Rhode Island. But my eldest siblings, some of them stayed behind. So I've always had a connection back to Cleveland, even though I ended up moving back here in the very late '80s and left for a couple of years but have been permanently back for about twenty-five years now. But even in all that time, there's always been a sibling or someone or my parents end up moving back. So it's a Cleveland connection.
Sarah Nemeth [00:01:30] So you've always had a connection.
Jeff Moreau [00:01:30] Yep.
Sarah Nemeth [00:01:30] Regardless of if you weren't always here, you always had the Cleveland vibes.
Jeff Moreau [00:01:32] Yes. Yeah.
Sarah Nemeth [00:01:36] I know you were maybe 8 when you lived in Parma, but when maybe someone around you said, oh, I live on the west side of Cleveland, did people automatically think you were talking about a suburb?
Jeff Moreau [00:01:51] You know what? I... You know, that part wasn't really part of my life at that point. You know, I didn't even understand the east-west kind of thing. As I got a little bit older, it was funny because you would, then when I was living in Columbus in high school, and I remember meeting someone from Cleveland, and that's when I started to hear a little bit more of the, Oh, well, you were born there and, you know, some of the preconceived notions of different places and I wasn't even familiar with at that point. But got to know, you know, learned it more like later in life.
Sarah Nemeth [00:02:30] What side of town were they from?
Jeff Moreau [00:02:30] West side but different parts. You know, so it's just kind of funny how, you know, just hearing, you know it. And part of it was Parma itself. I mean, Parma has its own little funny reputation. And that was back, you know, when I was little, that was back in the white socks and Polish and, you know, that kind of stereotype of Parma. And that was pretty much, which I didn't really realize until I was a lot older and had left. And that it was kind of like, oh, I didn't know I was part of this little group.
Sarah Nemeth [00:03:07] Interesting. When some of your siblings stayed, where did they live? Did they move out of Parma and go anywhere else?
Jeff Moreau [00:03:17] Well, my one sister first moved to the east side because she was a teacher and she got a teaching job out in Mentor. So she was out there for a while. And then I think she was in the Euclid area for a while. Another sister stayed more on the immediate west side like Lakewood and that area. My parents moved back in the mid '80s. They moved to Bay Village. And then my sisters had both lived in... kind of moved to Rocky River at that point. So kind of became... Our family kind of became West Side, that west side inner-ring suburb kind of family.
Sarah Nemeth [00:03:56] Okay. Did you ever travel into downtown? Did you go down there?
Jeff Moreau [00:04:02] I used to a lot. So when I was in college, I became friends... I graduated from high school in Columbus. And then I went to Miami of Ohio. And I became friends with a lot of other kids from Cleveland. So I used to end up a lot of times in my summers, I spent a lot of weekends driving up to Cleveland just to have fun. They were all East Siders. So they they were from Beachwood and University Heights and Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights and that area. So that kind of opened up a little bit more of a different... That was the Cleveland that I was experiencing. And back then, that was when the Flats, that first resurgence of the Flats was really big. So as college students, you know, we would drive down to the Flats every every... on the weekends, all the time to go have fun. So I that's where I was kind of getting more familiar... I actually was getting more familiar with the east side. And then kind of that Flats area, I wasn't really spending time on the west side even though my parents were there.
Sarah Nemeth [00:05:15] OK. Well, what were kind of your first perceptions of the east side of Cleveland?
Jeff Moreau [00:05:20] Well, I remember, the biggest thing that really threw me in doing that drive was what Chester used to look like and what it... I mean, I was from Columbus, you know, I was from Columbus. Columbus was a much newer city, you know, a lot of the suburbs with the cul de sacs and you know, that typical type of thing there is there wasn't that old housing stock. And so I remembered when we used to drive... First of all, there was a couple different things. One, driving down Fairmount Boulevard used to floor me because there was just nothing like that in Columbus. And, you know, just the big old homes that were built around that all around the same time and that grandness. There just wasn't... You know, that was just amazing. And then you would kind of, you know, we would drive down Fairmount and we would kind of continue down and, you know, you'd get through University Circle, which wasn't developed like it is now, but then you'd hit right after University Circle, and depending on what you were taking, either Carnegie or Chester were usually the two roads that we would take, I mean, it was boarded up. Huge houses right up, right up to the sides. And so that was really new to me. I had never, you know, I was a little scared by what, you know, where are we and what is going on? And that was before, you know, a lot of those homes then started to get torn down. But that's really when when the old, and they were big, a lot of them were really big old homes that they were just, you know, had been abandoned. And that was that was just a completely new experience for me, having having grown up in or I'd grown up, but having spent a lot of my formative years in a newer city like Columbus, too, to kind of see all of that and what what's happening.
Sarah Nemeth [00:07:16] Yeah, that would be... [unintelligible].
Jeff Moreau [00:07:17] It was! It was.
Sarah Nemeth [00:07:20] What were some of the places you went to in the Flats?
Jeff Moreau [00:07:24] Well, we... River's Edge was a big one. And then there was, that was kind of in the heyday when like Shooters opened up the first time and there were more. You know, there was Fagan's and all of those little places that had the little boardwalks that were kind of... What was the... There was one that we used to go to all the time. Now I'm not... I think was not The Dock, but it was something like that or The Edge or something. But yeah. So lots of lots of too many people packed into spaces with probably really bad fire codes. But it was fun. It was fun.
Sarah Nemeth [00:08:00] Sounds fun. Did the places sell food? Was it just bars at that time?
Jeff Moreau [00:08:07] Well, it started out, you know, you had smaller places that were more like bars and like we would never you know, there wasn't really a place we were going to eat. And then some development started to happen. I mean, there was one nicer restaurant back then. There was The Watermark. And I believe Sammy's was down there, too. But that was way too high end for my college budget. And then when they started to be, I think right around when Shooters came in and they started to really kind of re-identify themselves and kind of... A lot of the... Some of the industry started moving out and making way for some of the, I would say more like nightclub-type places. So, you know, there were pools in these bars and you know, so a little place like Fagan's, which was kind of like a little hole in the wall, redid itself and now became this big bar with a big outdoor deck and a pool and a place for bands to play. And so it completely changed what it was like from before. And it was still a lot of fun. They were I mean, they were packed. People would come from all over. You know, there were, I remember for food, I remember more of the, like, the carts out, you know, the people selling the hotdogs and the little gyros and things like that, you know, to hit that bar crowd afterwards. But it wasn't really... Generally, I think, when we would kind of start out maybe somewhere on the east side and then kind of drive down there so.
Sarah Nemeth [00:09:42] I'm just trying to imagine the Flats looking like that, with little carts and.. I don't know. I wasn't...It went down when I was just at that age to start going in. And then obviously back up now.
Jeff Moreau [00:09:56] Yeah, it's very different. I mean, it used to be... It was it was a lot grittier. It was a lot, you know, it feels more like a developed area now, whereas before it it definitely had more of, a little bit more of an organic kind of feel. I mean, you could all us that you could have someone who probably... you know, they just had a warehouse that was sitting there and either they decided to open something up or they started to lease it to someone who decided to do something. And and the way they were all situated on the river is you didn't really have access to the river like you do now with like the boardwalk. I mean, you would have to go into one of the restaurants or clubs and they would have a deck that you could go see the river from. But there wasn't like just kind of like a public area where you could kind of go see what was going on. You were kind of in all these little all the access to the river was basically in the back of these bars or restaurants, because a lot of them used to be warehouses from the time when they were unloading the big ships.
Sarah Nemeth [00:11:01] Interesting the way that things develop over time as different people start to come into a spot like before they were catering to the workers getting off the second shift, or, you know, third shift.
Jeff Moreau [00:11:12] Yeah. And so you still had some of those. I mean, that's where things like Flatiron and Old Angle and Fagan's. I mean, those were just blue-collar workingman bars. You know, where and where exactly that's where they came from. And then all of a sudden they started to get, you know, their crowd started to really change and they kind of reimagined themselves and started to become something else. So it's interesting.
Sarah Nemeth [00:11:39] So after you graduated from college, where did you go?
Jeff Moreau [00:11:44] So I graduated from college. I lived in Cincinnati for my first year, and then I was transferred to Cleveland. So I lived in Cleveland for about a year. And through those college friends that I met who all lived on the east side, I met who's now my wife, who grew up in Cleveland Heights. We actually, I was only in Cleveland for about a year. We broke up and then I moved to Los Angeles. So I was in Los Angeles for about three years. And so I moved out there in '89. And then in 92, I ended up moving back to Cleveland because the aforementioned girlfriend was now going to be my wife. So we got back together. So my wife, who grew up in Cleveland Heights and I thought this was kind of funny. When I moved back... My wife had lived in Chicago for a little bit while I was in L.A. She moved back. She got a job offer back in Cleveland and she lived in Lakewood. And and even though she had grown up in the Heights and that was, the east side was her element. Kind of her... There were like a group of like her friends that and these girls who they kind of wanted to try something different. So they moved to Lakewood. Like that was like the big change. And they got out of the Heights, they moved to Lakewood. So when I first moved back here, I lived in Lakewood. And we just... We never... Because we kind of had that both east side, west side type of things, we've always traveled back and forth that we don't, we never really thought of it as much too much of as a divide because her parents were still there and we were, you know, going back and forth. And when we were looking for our first home, the first question we had to figure out was east side or west side. I mean, it was, you know, because either one of we saw the advantages to both of them. So it just that whole like, you know, the whole you need your passport to cross the bridge thing wasn't something that really affected us much. But from our perspective, what we... was really foreign to us were the the further out suburbs like Strongsville and you know, what was going on in Brunswick and Avon and Hudson and you know, Chardon, I mean those were just... Those were just different worlds to us. There was no reason for us to go out there.
Sarah Nemeth [00:14:14] Okay, so you still in that ring...
Jeff Moreau [00:14:15] Kind of that inner-ring suburb, and that's where I kind of felt like Lakewood has more in common with Cleveland Heights than, you know, because they both have a lot of those same kind of characters. And I used to I used to say, I mean, I have friends who were on the east side, and they're like, well, we're we're closer to the art museum and the University Circle and all these things. And it was like, well, actually, you're not. It takes me 15 minutes to get there. I, you know, I just drive down Lake and I'm on the Shoreway and I get off at MLK and I'm there. You know, you're out, further out in Hudson, it's going to take you, or Chardon or one of those places, it's going to take you just as long to get from Mayfield to University Circle as it does for me. So that's why it was really more about the convenience of the location than east versus west.
Sarah Nemeth [00:15:05] Okay, well that's an interesting perspective. Everyone I talk to is very like, yes, well you didn't cross the [river] and this is where you lived, and this was the characteristic and why you chose to live in this neighborhood. So speaking of that, why did you decide to start a business in Detroit Shoreway?
Jeff Moreau [00:15:24] So I have been working in advertising for about twenty-five years and was kind of just needed to make a move out of what I wanted to do. And I always kind of wanted to have my own little business. Either kind of a retail restaurant... I worked a lot in that food and beverage industry all through high school and college. And my wife was very supportive of it, mostly because she was getting tired of hearing me complain about advertising. But I kind of came up with the concept of what I wanted to do with it as a business. And I landed on this idea of this kind of 1920s through 1940s soda fountain because I really felt like kind of the '50s soda shop had been done to death, but like that whole drugstore area was just such a... When I started learning about it, I just thought it was such a cool old part of history that had really just kind of gone by the wayside. So I originally, it was originally kind of started this whole inspiration was I saw this... I saw a building in Vermilion that was for sale and it was actually an old drugstore. And I was kind of looking at it and buried kind of underneath all this other stuff was their original soda fountain. And so it kind of... That's what really got me looking into, you know, this whole history of it. And I kind of walked away with this idea of I have a really good idea, but that's not the right area. So. So from there, I kind of had this business plan for putting together this neighborhood soda fountain and I needed to find where I was going to do this. Now, I currently live in Rocky River. So my wife and I, you know, we were both working downtown. So, you know, hadn't really, we started... There were a couple little startup restaurants here at that point. So, you know, I'm looking, thinking about 2008, 2009 is when I first started thinking about this concept. And we started to go to Luxe restaurant, which was at that point owned by Marlin Kaplan and his wife Melissa. And now Melissa's sole owner. But he had a great restaurant downtown that we really like. So that was kind of our first kind of coming in here to see what this area was like was to try that restaurant. And then Stone mad opened and we kind of checked that out. And there was still, it was still pretty rough around the edges, but there were things happening. I mean, the Gordon Square Arts District had formed. There were capital campaigns going on. Cleveland Public Theatre had always been here but, you know, it was still in need of a lot of repair and renovations. Capitol Theater was still just like an idea of trying to renovate it back and opening it back up again. And Near West Theatre was wasn't even in the neighborhood yet. They were still performing in Ohio City. So I... What's funny is that when I first started to look for areas, my wife was the first one who said, you know, you should look at Gordon Square. And I kind of went, OK, well, you know, I'll kind of look around at night. And I came out here on the weekend one day and I walked to a couple of the stores and I asked some people and, you know, my takeaway was really like, there's something kind of cool there, but I'm not ready for it. It's still a little rough around the edges. It's... I don't want to be a pioneer, and I'm not exactly sure what's going to happen. It's still a little bit too much of a gamble. So I started looking at kind of other places in the Cleveland area. One of the things I really wanted is because I was kind of saying I wanted to be a neighborhood soda fountain, I really wanted to be in a neighborhood. And I wanted to be in, ideally, be in more of an older type of storefront, a traditional storefront. So I kind of ruled out basically everything in the suburbs. I had no desire to be in like a strip shopping center or, you know, a lifestyle center or anything like that. So I just kind of was looking around some other places to see, you know, what was good, what was maybe happening in Tremont or Ohio City or downtown or maybe going a little even further east. And I kept coming back to Detroit to this Gordon Square area, because a lot of the things that I was running into as far as problems that I wasn't liking there, I was kind of realizing that, you know, there were still opportunities at Gordon Square. And one of the big clinches is when I started to... I we filled our shop with antiques from original original soda fountain antiques. So when you're bringing in like a 12-foot-long original marble soda fountain front and a huge stainless steel soda fountain and a 10-foot-tall bar back that's from the turn of the last century, I started to realize I don't really want to move this stuff if I ever lose my lease. And once I have all of this stuff into a space, someone can, someone who's kind of really got me if they want to start it once that lease is up, they know that it's going to be really difficult for me to leave, and the good thing was Detroit Shoreway... The buildings, it was still affordable. So, you know, the clincher was I was able to purchase the building that we live in, or that we live in, that I put the business in. So that really opened it up because then I knew I could do what I wanted to. I could bring in the equipment that I knew I would have control over that. And I also because it was like an old storefront, there were a couple apartments above there. And I thought, well, if I renovate the apartments, I can at least have an income stream coming in. If this whole entire business idea is a bust. So I mean that... and it fit a lot of the things that I wanted demographically. It had a great fun, diverse neighborhood. And people who really kind of had it had a sense of neighborhood that a lot of places didn't. So, I mean, you had everywhere from like third-generation Italian families to, you know, young Hispanic families and, you know, and then African American families. It was just like it was kind of fun. It was just like and... And you know, I would have people say to me, well, why didn't you build this in Rocky River where you live? And my reaction was always because then all my customers will be people from Rocky River. And that's not a lot of fun. I want, you know, I want to be able to to do something, you know, kind of do it a little bit, do a little bit differently. And honestly, I feel like choosing Gordon Square was a huge factor in the success of the business from a couple standpoints. One is that I was immediately embraced by the neighborhood. I mean, people were so excited by the fact that here was an independent business who was coming in and investing in their neighborhood and building something that, you know, that could be enjoyed by a lot of different people. So I was, I was very, very welcomed. I mean. Yeah. And so that felt great. And then, you know, the idea then of doing a business like what I did in this also won me a lot of kind of press and PR and got me more attention than I probably would have had I just built it had been another place in the suburb. So I think all of that really helped me build that kind of... And then and things started to really come around the same time. I opened in 2011. I first started looking at the building in 2009. Took a while to kind of get everything wrapped up. Started construction in 2010, opened in 2011. And in the meantime, in that time, the streetscape renovation had been completed. The Capitol Theater opened up, a few more businesses started opening. So things were really starting. You could tell there was this momentum that was happening, but it was still a little bit like, what is going on? I had faith in it. I kind of saw what I could do and I was really excited. But I remember had contractors working on my building who would just thought I was nuts. Like they could not understand what I was doing, investing this money and putting this into a building in this neighborhood. They couldn't see it. And, you know. So they were being really... And, you know, it... But, you know, look, it turned out. Now, it's funny because I have people who tell me that they feel like I was kind of on the forefront of it. And and I feel like so much of the tough groundwork was laid before I ever got here. So I think it's I think it's funny when people refer to me as being one of the pioneers here, when I feel like, you know, Gypsy [Beans] and Luxe and Capitol Theater and what Detroit Shoreway did and the Cleveland Public Theatre and Near West Theatre and and Matt Zone with the commitment to the streets, all of that stuff was the foundation was really there. I just happened to get in on it as an early adopter, I would say.
Sarah Nemeth [00:25:10] You definitely just believed in it.
Jeff Moreau [00:25:12] Yeah. And it and saw it before... You know, now I think, now it's not as it's not as hard for people to imagine it. They see the traffic, they see the people. They see what's happening. I mean... And it's changed a lot even in those in those years. But there there was still a little bit more of a gamble. So, kind of fun.
Sarah Nemeth [00:25:33] Okay. When you think about non-corporate eateries or shops or something like that, how do they affect the image of the neighborhood? So yours and Gypsy Beans and the theaters, they're not a Texas, you know, what is that? Or an Applebee's.
Jeff Moreau [00:25:55] Yeah.
Sarah Nemeth [00:25:55] How does that change how people view a neighborhood?
Jeff Moreau [00:25:59] Well, I think it really lends itself to that neighborhood feeling. I mean, you walk in and, you know your customers, you know, I mean it's like... And I in turn support my neighbors. So when I'm going to XYZ to grab a beer or if I go to Luxe still ever, you know, I see people that I know. I probably know people in this neighborhood better than the people in the neighborhood I live in now because I've just, you know, you interact with them a lot different. So I think it adds a sense of pride to, you know, you definitely become more integrated in the neighborhood when you know that you start to, you know, I started to realize that my business has made a difference. I mean, it's it. I had a draw that some of the businesses that were here were not getting. I started to really become a destination. So I was getting people when I first opened up, I was getting people who were like, I've grew up in this neighborhood and I haven't been here in 25 years. I mean, it was it floored me. I mean, these were... So I started to get some of the people who maybe wouldn't have seen themselves coming down here, but they heard there was something kind of unique and different about our place. And I think that's what helped because all of the businesses here, what being unique, then they became a destination. If you had a Starbucks well then it's... Why go to the Starbucks there? Because you've got a Starbucks probably closer to your... three of them on the way here. But if the only place you could experience that, if you know the only place you could go to Luxe is go to, you know, go to Gordon Square, the only way you can be able to experience Toast is go to Gordon Square. The only way you're gonna be able to see the renovated Capitol Theater is going to Gordon Square or Stone Mad and you know, a lot of... So that became... It kind of brought people out as a destination. Whereas I don't think a chain or a national business could have done that because people want what's easiest, kind of what's easiest, and they want to work in their comfort zone. So if you live in a place like I live in Rocky River and you're going to go to a Chipotle, so to speak, you're not going to come out here to go to Chiptole. You're going to go to the Chipotle that's closer to you or you're going to go to the one that's in maybe a place that you're more comfortable. You're not going to go outside of your zone. I think that these unique businesses kind of got people to come and explore a little bit and come into a neighborhood that maybe they wouldn't have. And then they look around and go, oh, well, now we need to come back because now there's a really cool pinball parlor down there and I want to try that out and I want to try this and I didn't know you had that. So that's what I think kind of makes it a little bit more fun and unique.
Sarah Nemeth [00:29:02] Do you know what your building was before?
Jeff Moreau [00:29:06] A couple of different things. Yeah, it's been a lot. Well, when I bought it, it was being... I purchased it from the Cleveland Christian Home. They were using it. They were... They had a program where they were doing a lot of outreach for kind of like troubled youth, troubled adolescent[s]. And they were there for, I would say... I forget, maybe 7 to 10 years or so. But the buildout that they had was, it was originally an H&R Block. So it's a lot of small offices and kind of... That was the space that they were working in. But before that and I've met, you know, because some of the people are still in the neighborhood, there was a barber on one side. There used to be an Italian kind of like an import and dry goods kind of store where you could get like dried meats and things like that. And also kind of some of the products that weren't available in the typical kind of grocery store. But those are... The barber's the one I definitely know of. But the dry goods store. In fact, there's someone in the neighborhood who as a child, her family actually owned the building and she lived upstairs. When her parents passed away, she lived upstairs with their aunts, I believe it was her aunts, for a couple of years because they lived in one of the apartments above. So it's kind of fun and then funny, you know, funny enough like then, and you're up to speed. Her daughter was one of my employees in years later on. So it's kind of funny.
Sarah Nemeth [00:30:42] Oh! Yeah. Definitely a community place then. How did you start your research on being able to create an authentic 1920s-30s place?
Jeff Moreau [00:30:55] Thank God for the Internet because I could never have done what I did without the Internet. But, you know, it was really starting to do some, a little, you know, just there's a lot out there as far as history. And then I really started going around and visiting. So I started... There's a great place in Philadelphia that I know the owners of. And I had met and kind of networked with them a little bit. There's a most incredible soda fountain – it's got to be one of the most incredible in the country – that's in Columbus, Indiana. So, I mean, really, it was a matter of I got in my car and I just started, I started driving around and going to these places and talking to the owners. And, you know, they had fun. They talked about what they did. They'd give you tours and kind of figure out what you could do and get some ideas. But the Internet was definitely a huge help.
Sarah Nemeth [00:31:53] I bet.
Jeff Moreau [00:31:53] Yeah.
Sarah Nemeth [00:31:53] Well, but also getting to go talk to people. I mean, someone's actually interested in doing something like me. It's a commonality.
Jeff Moreau [00:32:01] Yeah. Yeah. And especially because they're small. They're small businesses, their owners. So there was never this... I would never encountered like a threat. Like they felt like I was a threat. You know, in fact, there's a couple of ideas that I borrowed from Franklin Fountain. But I said to the owners, I'm like, would you mind if I did that? They're like yeah, that's fine, you know. And it's like, well, that's a great way, you know, and so kind of incorporated, that type of thing. But...
Sarah Nemeth [00:32:32] How did you come up with your recipes for anything? Are those ones you borrowed?
Jeff Moreau [00:32:38] Yeah. Well, you know what? The whole idea is that the... Because it was an old-fashioned soda fountain and I kind of wanted to kind of form it around some of those old-fashioned ideals, so, you know, my feeling was that this isn't about crazy combinations and doing, you know, it was kind of getting down to that core, things that maybe your grandmother made and recipes. So a lot of my recipes started out just from old cookbooks and like things that I could try to find online. And then from there, I would just start to expand them and start multiplying them out and out and out. You know, so it's like you used... And then you just keep experimenting and tweaking them. So a lot of things, especially like ice cream, there's a there's a basis out there for like, you know, there's certain things and rules that you need to kind of have to follow, but then you can kind of tweak them to make your own. So, for instance, like you can make a butter pecan ice cream and, you know, one person can make homemade ice cream by just opening up a large can that has something labeled butter pecan base. And they mix that in with their dairy and that gives them the flavor. We try to take everything down to its simplest. So sugar, cream, butter, and we make homemade butterscotch and that becomes, in a large copper kettle, and that becomes the base for our butter pecan ice cream. So we kind of try to do it the more old fashioned ways and kind of keep with those classic combinations of, you know, salted nuts and caramel and chocolate and, you know, those type of things that are kind of good crowd pleasers.
Sarah Nemeth [00:34:35] Could you describe maybe your opening day?
Jeff Moreau [00:34:39] Oh, my God! Opening day was like... It was crazy. I mean, I had never... So. So I had this young, very young crew at that point. You know, most of... It's very different than the crew I have now because you're starting out and you lot of experienced people, you know, who's this person who's going to come in and what are they doing? And, you know, they're not going to necessarily quit a job over it. So I had a lot of high school students at that point. And we didn't know what to expect. I mean, I had processes in place kind of going, well, this is how we're going to kind of do it. And we did our own little soft opening, friends and family kind of thing. But we were not prepared at all for what happened. There was a line before we opened, and the line was out the door. It was so crazy that Channel 5 News actually came and interviewed me during the opening because it was just so crazy. People were like, you know, are our processes were not made to keep up for it. People were waiting for stuff and there were mistakes. But everyone was really like they were happy. I mean, like we were this curiosity thing, especially for the people in the neighborhood. They wanted to come see it and then just other people. We got a really good write-up in The Plain Dealer right beforehand. And so people really wanted to check out what this place was. But we were so unprepared. I mean, like, to the point where we look back at it now and it makes you laugh how naive we were on how certain things were going to work. I mean, the way we had set it up is that you would go up to the register and you would order and there would be a person standing next to the register when you ordered. And, you know, they would just go make that order, you know, just kind of in their head. Well, you know, we're one hour into this and we're like, we need to have... We need to start writing this down because there's just no way we can, you know, no way. There's no there's not a spare person to just hang out and listen to this. Plus, these orders are too large. Plus, there's way too many coming through. This pace is completely different. So, you know, we had to kind of change a lot of things right on the fly. You know, equipment was breaking down and kind of figuring some things out. But it was funny. This is, I always thought this is a funny story at that point. Right now, we're open seven days a week, but we only used to be open six days a week. We were closed on Mondays, so we had made ice cream and kind of stocked up what we thought we were going to be needing. And then on our end, I believe the opening day was a Saturday. On Sunday, mid-afternoon afternoon, I remember having to get up and just like make an announcement for the whole line. I'm like, we're out of vanilla. We're out of chocolate. We're out of.... And I know I probably named five different flavors that we were out of. And we don't have a lot of flavors to begin with. And what was really funny, everyone started clapping because they were so excited that our business was so successful. And, you know, [laughs] so it's just like it was just amazing. It was absolutely amazing. So I got a little emotional there.
Sarah Nemeth [00:37:54] Well, it's super exciting, I mean, you did....
Jeff Moreau [00:37:59] Because you're at that point and you're kind of like, you're still wondering, is this going to work? I mean, now you remember kind of going like, I think this is a good idea. I would come to this place. I hope other people think the same. So it was like amazing to all of a sudden, like, go, oh, my God, this is going to work. [laughs] [cross talk] It was like, thank you! So...
Sarah Nemeth [00:38:29] Well, your first day obviously was successful, and I heard, just researching online, the interior of your place is really cool, just in general. Not hokey, and not like you tried. It's just like it happened.
Jeff Moreau [00:38:44] Well, we tried. What I tried to do is create a space... To me, there's a fine line between authentic and hokey. And so I kind of said from the very beginning, there's not going to be bicycles hanging from the walls and dust-collecting antiques. I decided that anything that is an antique, anything that looks like an antique needs to be an antique. And anything that is... Any antique that is brought in here has to be a usable, functional part of doing the business. So that meant everything from the actual soda fountain itself to the root beer barrel. Our menu boards were from, are slate boards from an 1869 schoolhouse. You know, the stools were from a 1920s soda fountain. And that's where the Internet, eBay and Craigslist, really came in handy. All the chairs, all that kind of thing. So that kind of, and knowing that we were still kind of an arts district, I kind of went and those things need to be the focal point. And so the rest of the shell should be cleaner. So at that point, it was like, you know what? We can have some track lighting. We can have some cleaner walls. We don't have to have every inch trying to feel like it's hitting you over the head. And I think that kind of helped a lot. You know, and it's... And I think that that really is what established, what made us what made us different. And I think that moving forward, I mean, I don't think I could ever recreate.... I could never recreate exactly what I have now. I never could. The stuff's just not even available. And there's certain things that I did that, like, I'm really glad I didn't know what I was getting myself into because they made no logical sense. But I love the results. For instance, we have authentic ice cream parlor chairs, the old wrought iron ice cream parlor chairs. I collected those two, three, four at a time traveling around in my car, Pennsylvania, Chicago. I mean, I was going all around to get these things. And then I took them all apart, had them sandblasted, powder coated and then reassembled them. Now, that sounds like a great idea until you are staring at a pile like a of four foot high, eight foot wide pile of twisted metal that you need to now reassemble like a puzzle. And it was just... It was cr[azy]... It was just... [laughs] But we got through it. Thankfully, one of my sisters and her husband stopped by and we all had our crescent wrenches in hand, and one of those old chairs, I mean, like some of them have up to nine different parts. You know, every leg is separate, the seat is separate, the back is separate that, you know, and then all, you know so it's like there's a lot of work to kind of put those things together and, so... But the results are great. But I don't think I could. I don't think it was ever one of the smartest decisions to do. So that was a good example.
Sarah Nemeth [00:42:07] So is there a Gordon Square Association of businesses or a little association?
Jeff Moreau [00:42:17] There's a couple different things. I mean, I think Detroit Shoreway does a lot to try to bring merchants together. There's also a special improvement district where property owners on a few blocks all pay into... All have an assessment that's based on the number of feet they have as frontage on Detroit. And that goes towards we'll hire some extra maintenance, extra services like some extra security or some trash collection, flower planting, lights, Christmas decorations, those kind of things. So that kind of goes together. There's still Gordon Square Arts District. But actually, what I found kind of interesting as I've gone through this, one of the things that I would have never expected and ended up becoming the most gratifying about this whole entire thing is that I really started to become involved with the neighborhood. So I'm on the board for the Gordon Square Arts District. I'm on the Economic Development Committee through Detroit Shoreway. I'm on the board for the special improvement district. So, I mean, it's like it really started to become bigger than me, bigger than the shop. You know, I started to realize that it's, you know, that we were helping create a little bit of a movement or, you know, we were bringing and helping bring a neighborhood back. And, you know, and getting involved with their fundraisers and helping people, you know, do some of those things. That became... That is incredibly gratifying. And it's really fun. And it's a slow process sometimes, but then you stand back every once in a while and you think, wow, look what's happened. And that's one of those things that by being in Gordon Square, I would have never had that experience being in maybe a suburb somewhere or even some other neighborhoods. I mean, you just get to know the people and the block clubs and, you know, it's just kind of fun that way.
Sarah Nemeth [00:44:45] So some people have suggested that within Detroit Shoreway there's maybe three separate sections, there's the middle and there's the upper-end area. And then of course, there is south of Madison. Have you noticed there's a difference or maybe a certain section of the neighborhood isn't getting paid attention to as much?
Jeff Moreau [00:45:11] Well, I always really concentrate my upper efforts on Gordon Square and for obvious reasons, that's where my business is. But, you know, that also does greater good for some of the Detroit Shoreway. But there is, I mean, there's always been a little bit of that. You know, the marketing, the attention being paid to Gordon Square, because that's where the businesses are. But you know that maybe the section where, you know, the housing stock isn't as good or that the stores are still closed, they're getting ignored. And then you've got... So I think you always hear about that. My feeling has always been, you can't force it to happen. I've always felt like it's very organic. And I could see it starting to happen more because I've always felt like it. You can't if you just tried... if you spread out these efforts too far, then there's no impact. But if you can make an impact, and I think good Detroit Shoreway does a good job of, you know, knowing what the service is needed for different areas. But for my efforts, I always felt like if you can make an impact, then it'll grow out from there because then it's like so there's Gordon Square, but then all of a sudden, you know, housing becomes more limited in Gordon Square or opportunities to open businesses become more limited. So maybe you go a little further, a little block away, then maybe you go two blocks away and then the next thing you know, you're getting kind of further and further out and you're connecting neighborhoods. So I mean, it eventually, you know, eventually they'll start to connect. And I feel like that's how it's going to happen. It will continue to happen. You're not going to be able to tell someone, go open your business on Lorain Avenue. It's completely surrounded by boarded-up buildings. But as Ohio City starts, as that whole Market District in Ohio City gets more filled and then it turned the corner and started going down Lorain. And then it starts to go down Lorain further and further and further. Well, then you're... Now you're not an isolated business anymore. You know, you just need to take it a little block further and maybe a little block further south, a little block further north, a little... And that's where it kind of grows because things are... Unlike a suburb where you could just say, all right, we're gonna just go buy acres and acres and acres of farmland and we are going to build this whole entire new place and kind of establish yourself right away. You can't do that in an established neighborhood. It's piece by piece. And we always talked about how it's like... It's filling the missing teeth. There's gaps. And we just need to we need to work on filling those gaps. My feeling has always been, you know, when people talk about bringing people from – you know, it's still the city to a lot of people, and bringing people in from the suburbs or, you know, the security issues – and my feeling has always been that the best way you can tackle that is to bring more businesses within... bring in more activity, because no one wants to, if you can't find a parking place. No one wants to park six blocks away and walk in front of three blocks of dark buildings. And then it is what might be as seems like a sketchy apartment. And then, you know, an undesirable business or something. But then that becomes, that feels like it's far. But if those same five blocks now have activity and they're lit and there's, you know, then then that's not an intimidating walk anymore. And so I kind of feel like you by kind of bringing it out, you kind of you widen that comfort zone more and more until and they don't have to help in like what's happening on Lorain is separate than what's happening here. I mean, there's... And what's happening at Hingetown. But eventually they all kind of like come together. And I think one of the great things about Detroit Shoreway is that there's always been this very conscientious effort to not come in and completely change the neighborhood and make it a suburb. You know, it's like, you know, what makes it a neighborhood is the diversity and that... And if you start to lose that, you can't you can't push the people out who've lived here for 30 years. So, you know, they're part of that fabric. And it's important to be able to make sure that they have businesses that they can use. If you don't necessarily have, you know, if you're on public assistance, that doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to walk out your door and have a place where you can go grab something to eat or, you know, enjoy some of the services at night. And I think that that's what, you know, it's a struggle. But I think that there's a very conscious effort not to just kind of like come in and try to go clean slate and say, all right, now this is a brand-new area that we're reinventing ourselves to be. I mean, it's a marathon. You know, it's a little bit at a time.
Sarah Nemeth [00:50:53] Nicely said. That was really great perspective on that. Kind of in closing, I wanted to see first, what is your favorite item on your menu? And if you could describe it for someone that might listen to this later.
Jeff Moreau [00:51:13] That depends how hungry I am. [laughs] So if I'm really feeling gluttonous, we have what was originally called, in the shop, it was called the Bob Feller Sundae. So Bob Feller's an old and great Indians player and a lot of our menu items, our signature items, are named after kind of Cleveland-based things. We have a huge sundae that's called the Terminal Tower. We have a Mount Carmel, which is named after the church down the block. We have a Shoreway Sundae. We have a Gordon Square Sundae. So the Bob Feller, which is now also we have a stand at Progressive Field where the Indians play, which just serves a very limited menu. So now it's also called the Ballpark Sundae. But it is kind of inspired by Cracker Jacks, is the best way to put it. We start with a bed of our homemade caramel corn. And we're making that in the back kitchen. Five ingredients, very, you know, just like any very simple, simple but good recipe. So it starts with a bed of caramel corn and then it has our salted French caramel ice cream. It gets topped with our homemade hot fudge, a little bit more caramel corn, some Spanish peanuts, and then whipped cream and a cherry. So it has this really interesting sweet and salty and creamy and crunchy kind of thing going on. So that's definitely one of my favorite... And then I also really enjoy our ehoreway Sunday, which is just our homemade coffee ice cream with homemade toffee pieces, hot fudge, and chopped almonds, whipped cream, cherry. So, they're all good.
Sarah Nemeth [00:53:02] Sounds delicious. Well, now in closing, what is your hope for your business as you move into the future, as well as for the overall character of the Gordon [Square] Arts District in Detroit Shoreway?
Jeff Moreau [00:53:18] Well, I'll start with Gordon Square. You know, I think that one of the bigger problems that we've had is this this brand of Gordon Square Arts District, and what does it mean to be an arts district? And is it performing arts with Capitol Theater and Near West Theatre? Is it visual arts with what's going on with 78th Street Studios? And it becomes a little bit, especially in the past, it becomes a bit of a misnomer, because if someone walks in and they say, I mean, going to an arts district, well, they're expecting to see galleries. They're expecting to see, you know, a lot of those things that we don't really have here yet. So I think and part of the goal of Gordon Square Arts District and the board that I serve on, is that to really better define ourselves as an arts district and really become an arts community, a place where we can support up and coming artists, a place where you're going to see public art, a place where the businesses are at least creative based. You know, those type of things. And that's where I think if it starts to get that identity so people really understand, you know, what we are a little bit more and how that works, I mean, that's where I think it's going to be a success. And I think arts doesn't have to be a limiting word. I mean, like a lot of times, you know, getting people to think that it doesn't just mean that you're gonna have a gallery. I mean, it it could be that it's a Friday night and there's a performer on the street corner doing something, you know, or, you know, those those fun little things, a mural that's on the side of a building. You know, those type of things that really kind of give this neighborhood its own character and help develop it. So, you know, and I'd love to see it kind of just continue to grow. I'd love to see us start to connect further to make those connections closer and closer with Ohio City. And then, you know, eventually kind of go down like a little bit more, you know. You know, there's unfortunately, there's a kind of a little problem area right now on that one part of Detroit would be, you know, it'd be great to see it continue. I mean, you've got a great connection that you can make and try to bring that about. But I think, what... If we can... We all have these separate identities. There's Tremont. There's Ohio City. There's Gordon Square. And I think that if we can eventually stop getting people to think of those as all separate destinations, but just kind of know that that's all one big connected neighborhood that has these little kind of cells within it that have, I mean, that would be great. It would be great that you if you just kind of felt like that whole area has a character. And it's not just like here's a little pocket, then here's a pocket of nothing and then we need to get through that to get to here and then we need to get through it again to get through here. But to start to kind of connect that would be would be incredible. So, for my business, it's tough. I've gone all over the place with this. I don't know... I don't know if I can serve more people in our current location. And, you know, so I'm kind of like tapped out with what this location can do. So then it really comes down to kind of figuring out what do I want to do with that? Do I want to just be a single location and have that stand at Progressive Field and and be happy with that, which is which is a very viable idea? Or do I want to try to bring this into other neighborhoods that could maybe do something like that? You know, and that's where I would maybe need to bring on partners or bring on someone who has more of that expertise to do like a higher volume, which which I can't do. Do you try to get some of your stuff in resale? Do you try to do some wholesale? I mean, there's a lot of different opportunities. It's really... What I never want to lose is what the core brand is and what that core means. So. And that's where, you know, a lot of things... For me, what's hard is that having started it from the ground, I know all the intricacies of the business. I can look at that soda fountain that somebody is sitting at and I can say that twelve-foot soda fountain was from a drugstore in Virginia and it's from the 1920s. And you're staring at a [unintelligible], you know, but people don't necessarily know that. So, you know. So maybe, you know, so it makes me think that maybe there could be a way to start to replicate this if it's done correctly and you really kind of bring the brand along to still be that unique experience. But it doesn't necessarily require me to have a four foot pile of twisted metal in my garage, you know. But there could be ways to do that. So that's kind of one thing, you know, kind of thinking about how would I do that or do I want to do that or where do I want to go with the product offering? We've been open... This is our... Yikes, this is our sixth summer. So we we're open and it's there's still a lot of opportunity out there. I mean, what's funny is that when I opened shop and one of the reasons I chose this place, I did a little geographic map of where you could get ice cream, and from my shop the closest place you could get ice cream was two and a half miles away, which is a desert in ice cream language. I mean, like there are ice cream shops all over the place. The closest place was Tremont Scoops. And since then, I mean, Mitchell's has opened up on 25th. Mason's is opened up on Bridge. You've got more places in Lakewood. You know, I think two or three more places in Lakewood that have opened up, you know, so. So it's kind of funny. It's so, you know, to see where that's going and it's fine. And it's fun, but it's like I don't know if I'll ever have an opportunity like I had like this again. I mean, it was just... It was such a unique opportunity that I could never just pick this up and do the same. This hasn't... It wasn't created as a formula. And so in order for it to be recreated, the formula would have to change a little bit. And that's what I struggle with. That's trying to figure out if I want to go forward with that. So.
Sarah Nemeth [01:00:28] Okay, well I thank you for meeting with me today.
Jeff Moreau [01:00:30] All right.
Sarah Nemeth [01:00:31] It was great. Thank you.
Jeff Moreau [01:00:31] Thanks.
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"Jeff Moreau interview, 09 August 2017" (2017). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 955045.