Tavern on Grand in St. Paul is closing after 35 years in business

It’s a Thursday in January, a frigid 8 degrees outside, and Tavern on Grand’s lunch crowd was bustling. The owners chalk it up, in part, to the announcement they made only hours earlier that the iconic restaurant would be closing later this year.

"We’ve had so much love come out on social media," said Eric LeMay. "Our phones have been blowing up!"

Tavern on Grand opened 35 years ago with a focus on serving Minnesota Walleye. That shifted to Canadian Walleye over the years, due to commercial fishing restrictions in Minnesota, but it’s remained their well-loved specialty. They serve about a metric ton of it every month.

In June, after one last Grand Old Day, Tavern on Grand will turn off the ovens and close the doors.

"It just feels fitting with how great the avenue’s been to us," said LeMay. "To kind of sign off with a Grand Old Day just feels right."

The longtime owner of Tavern on Grand died last year. Now, the next generation who’ve been part of the business for years and largely kept it going the past several years, decided it was finally time to move on.  

The business is not failing or in trouble. But looking at the long term, they believe the time is right.

"To go on a high note, like there’s no better way to do it," said Tara Padilla, LeMay’s sister. "You want to step away when things are good and have all those memories… walk away with a smile on your face."

The stress of running a restaurant, a downturn in eating out since the pandemic and a decline in foot traffic along Grand Avenue are a few of the reasons for the closure. 

"I would say Grand Avenue is in transition," said Holly Weinkauf, the owner of Red Balloon Books a few blocks away.

Weinkauf's store, which she has owned for 12 years, and has been a fixture on Grand Avenue for 40 years, just came off its best holiday season yet.

But right next door is Salut Bar Americain, which closed in early January. Next to that, Anthropologie, which closed in 2022. Pottery Barn is on its way out.  Lululemon, North Face, J. Crew and the Loft are all gone, too.

Weinkauf, who sits on the board of the Grand Avenue Business Association, says that there seems to be a shift in shopping in recent years, in which those stores are no longer the anchor attractions they once were.

The stores that thrive are unique, like hers.

"In comparison to the recent retail stores that have closed, those stores have been stores that people can go to in many places," Weinkauf said.

She says the Association is looking at ways to pump new life into Grand, including attracting more unique shops, enhancing pedestrian safety and beautifying the street.

As for Tavern on Grand, they say they are looking at other options to keep serving walleye, whether it’s a new location or perhaps a food truck. They hope Grand Avenue finds new life.