The Grouchy Chef on Sunday, March 3, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)

The Grouchy Chef on Sunday, March 3, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)

Mukilteo’s one-of-a-kind Grouchy Chef is hanging up his apron

Takayuki Masumoto, “who absolutely brooks no nonsense from his patrons,” is looking for a buyer. Name not included.

MUKILTEO — The days of grouchy meals are numbered.

After 21 years, the Grouchy Chef proprietor is hanging up his apron.

What’s up with that?

The revered and feared chef Takayuki Masumoto is retiring.

The Mukilteo restaurant renowned for ridiculously strict rules and affordable fine cuisine is for sale. Not the name. Nobody could ever fill this chef’s Crocs.

“I’m selling the hardware,” Masumoto said Wednesday. “Everything inside I want to sell, except the recipes, the menu and the name of the company.”

Inventory includes tables, dishes, linens and kitchen equipment. Maybe he’ll throw in a few “Grouchy Chef” logo T-shirts and hats that patrons wear for travel selfies.

Asking price is $50,000, or a fair offer. The space, a corner of a warehouse at 4433 Russell Road, is not included.

Inside the Grouchy Chef on Sunday, March 3, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)

Inside the Grouchy Chef on Sunday, March 3, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)

A candlelit dinner starts at $15, for everything. All meals are four course. No tipping. It’s a wonder how he has even managed to survive all these years.

He needs to find a buyer by the end of his lease in August, preferably sooner.

Masumoto, who is in his late 60s, plans to move to Japan, where he grew up.

“I am eager to leave because of the physical reasons. The body is screaming,” he said. “The last time I had a day off was over seven years ago. It is time to go. But it’s not easy to get out. It’s not like you are working and giving two weeks notice. You have to find someone to take over.”

He does it all: shop, cook, clean. He’s the waiter and the bouncer.

No time for fun and games.

“I’m focused,” Masumoto said. “Not grouchy. That’s the name of the restaurant.”

Dining is by reservation only. Cash only. No jeans. No flip-flops. No wiping lipstick on the cloth napkins.

A table setting inside the Grouchy Chef on Sunday, March 3, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)

A table setting inside the Grouchy Chef on Sunday, March 3, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)

The menu is a binder rulebook. It takes a few pages to get to the food.

The dozen entrees include chicken in white sauce with prosciutto ham and Swiss cheese, $17; scallops cooked in saffron sauce, $29; rib loin of lamb, no bones, $41. The price includes soup, salad and dessert. A glass of wine is $7.

On our visit, the total was under $100 for three meals, including two glasses of Chardonnay and a bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water.

The squash soup du jour was delish. The salad was a pretty spread of cheese, fruit and fresh greens. Dessert is a plate with small bites of sorbet and mousse torte.

My $15 grilled duck leg, cut in pieces, was so good I would have shoveled it into my mouth if I hadn’t been under the vigilant eye of Chef Manners. My previous four meals there were excellent as well.

My two dining accomplices were first-timers. Both ordered scallops.

“The food is prepared to perfection, paired in surprising and tasty combinations and exquisitely beautiful,” said Brenda Mann Harrison. “What stands out to me are the high standards and expectations he has of himself and his guests.”

Janice Podsada praised her meal, even though she got a reprimand in mere minutes.

My reporter skills were called to the table. When Masumoto told me I was “not being a good listener” and “not too sharp” it made for a good laugh all around.

The Grouchy Chef has a dedicated following.

“It’s bizarre and wonderful at the same time,” said Dan Marcus, of Lynnwood. “A top-notch French restaurant in a Mukilteo industrial park, solely run by a highly skilled Japanese chef who absolutely brooks no nonsense from his patrons. Remember to pull your lady’s chair out for her.”

Photos of Marcus in his “Grouchy Chef” hat on travels are among numerous on the wall display. Donations for the chef’s merch goes for cancer research, in honor of his sister.

The food is “absolutely terrific,” said Roger BelAir, of Edmonds.

”Eating is a necessity, but dining is an art,” he said. “At Grouchy’s, one dined with a one-of-a-kind experience.”

Some don’t make it a second time.

The chef’s Yelp reviews are mostly five star, but a few people don’t appreciate enforced good etiquette.

Masumoto came to America 40 years ago from Japan, where he was a chef, with the dream of being his own boss. He worked for others for 19 years before opening the first Grouchy Chef with mainstream fare in a strip plaza on Mukilteo Speedway. The name came from a kitchen coworker back in the day who told him he looked grouchy when he was cooking.

“I’m not the type of guy who kind of relaxes and does a little singing,” he said.

The grouchy name was part of the draw and his demeanor was part of the entertainment for the busy lunch crowd on the Speedway.

Hats sit on display inside the Grouchy Chef on Sunday, March 3, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)

Hats sit on display inside the Grouchy Chef on Sunday, March 3, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)

He wanted his food to be the attraction, not him. So after six years of dealing with lunchtime “bozos,” he moved to a warehouse to offer fine dining in an upscale setting, at least as much as a warehouse allows.

The outside is marked by a Grouchy Chef cartoon of a frowning face and outstretched hands wielding a pan and spatula. (Masumoto does have a sense of humor under that gruff exterior.)

Upon entering, diners are sent to the restroom to wash their hands. Next is showing an ID and vaccination card. Then a warning not to clink your glasses together.

Read the rulebook or rue the day.

The dining room has nine tables with formal place settings. The windows are covered with layers of curtains and the door is draped. A lit candle on the table adds ambience. Soft music plays and diners are scolded if voices are raised.

Origami cranes are displayed inside the Grouchy Chef on Sunday, March 3, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)

Origami cranes are displayed inside the Grouchy Chef on Sunday, March 3, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)

Only a few tables are occupied at one time, so the chef can fully attend to each party.

Each course is served on china. Glasses are crystal and not for clinking, as he will remind you.

Masumoto, ever the gracious host, makes sure the silverware is aligned properly at all times during the four-course meal. If you use the wrong fork or spoon, you won’t get away with it.

As odd as it sounds, he just wants his customers to have a good time.

Mind your manners and you will.

For reservations, call 425-493-9754.

Is there a person, place or thing making you wonder “What’s Up With That?” Contact reporter Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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