What has made Chuck’s Coffee Shop “locally world famous” for the past five decades has been its gregarious owner and founder: Chuck Tinkler.
A well-known and fun-loving man who only went by his first name and was rarely seen without sunglasses, flip-flops, a straw hat and one of the seaside restaurant’s branded shirts, Chuck died this morning (Thursday) following what his family said were medical complications from a fall. He was 77.
Right up until his final days, family and friends said the man enjoyed spending time at the circa-1964 restaurant, which looks pretty much the same as it did when it first opened. The last major renovation took place in 1966.
Chuck himself, a native of Montreal, Canada, lived just a few blocks from the restaurant and enjoyed parking his green 1933 Ford Cabriolet outside. He said he never much liked to sit down.
“I’ve got too much energy,” Chuck said when celebrating his 50th year in business. “I’ve got to be able to move and get up and do things. I’m never going to grow up.”
Those who knew him said the man loved the beach and his customers, never shy about striking up conversations with guests or giving away hugs.
“I have a good time,” Chuck said simply.
One of Chuck’s closest friends, Randy Westbrook, had known him for four decades, with their families being a tight-knit group. They often went boating and fishing together or shared beers after work.
“He was an unusual character, and we called him the Mayor of Long Beach,” Westbrook said. “He could talk to people so easily, go up to strangers and start talking and laughing — he was real likeable, a great guy. There’s no telling how many people in Long Beach knew him. I enjoyed him, and I’m sorry he’s gone.”
Even though the restaurant won’t be the same without its founder, Chuck’s Coffee Shop will remain open, with Chuck’s children carrying on the legacy, his daughter Laurie Surface said. She’s been working with her father for the past few years and said he hoped that they would keep the restaurant going.
“It would be a shame to shut it down — he loved it so much,” she said. “He didn’t want to give it up.”
Surface said her father’s customer service motto was the acronym “SAW” (Smile And Wave), which he took seriously throughout his life.
“He was always smiling and waving,” she said.
At the restaurant, longtime manager and waitress Taylor Mims said Chuck built a place of community for the residents of Belmont Shore and anyone who was passing through the area.
“It has been a rough goodbye,” Mims said. “But he has solidified his position in the neighborhood, and his name will live on at the home of The Weasel (the restaurant’s most popular breakfast dish of three scrambled eggs, homemade chili, potatoes, toast, onions and cheese).”
The head cook at Chuck’s, who has worked there for nearly two decades and is known simply as Dino, shared similar sentiments.
“I speak for all the back-of-house staff when I say that Chuck was a great boss and an even better friend to us and our families,” Dino said. “We have deep gratitude and appreciate him and his family.”
Other employees at Chuck’s noted how they’ll remember how their boss always said, “Here, there was good food for good people.”
Belmont Shore Business Association Executive Director Dede Rossi called Chuck a Long Beach icon.
"He was very understated but made a big impression on our community," Rossi said. "When I have a guest come to town, they always want to go to Chuck's. He will be missed."
Chuck Tinkler, born on March 15, 1940, is survived by his daughter Laurie (and Kevin) Surface; his son Wayne (and Heather) Tinkler; grandchildren Jamie Surface and Cody Surface; and siblings Norman Tinkler and Madelyn Tinkler.
A celebration of Chuck’s life will take place in late May for family and friends. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made in Chuck Tinkler’s name to the Lung Cancer Foundation of America (LCFAmerica.org). Anyone interested in attending the memorial or sending condolences should email ChucksCoffeeShop@gmail.com.
For details about Chuck’s Coffee Shop, located at 4120 E. Ocean Blvd., call 433-9317. The cash-only restaurant is open daily for breakfast and lunch until 2:30 p.m.
Ashleigh Ruhl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.