With its future unclear, Tin Fish closes its doors—perhaps for the final time

For more than a decade, the Priest family's open-air restaurant, Tin Fish, has been a Minneapolis staple on the shores of Lake Calhoun. 

Open late spring through fall, the seasonal stand attracts thousands of visitors every year. A long line is par for the course when Minnesota's notoriously mercurial weather cooperates, especially when it's the final day of the season--as it was Sunday. 

"This is a perfect way to end," said Tin Fish regular Karen Percich. "On a 70 degree day, too. We've been here when we've been in parkas, so we'll take this any time."

But this day was different. 

After 14 years of operation, Sheff and Athena Priest are stepping down from the business, leaving Tin Fish's future still up in the air.

They refused to sign a new lease on the location with the Minneapolis Park Board earlier this year, hoping to hand Tin Fish over to three longtime employees after being asked to put $3 million into the building.

The Park Board, however, decided to open the site up for bidding--and though those three employees put in their own bid, the Priests say they keep hearing that the board has already decided to bring in someone else despite widespread neighborhood pushback.

"What I would ask is that the Park Board is make a decision, do it by the light of day and be accountable to the decision you make," Athena Priest said.

Tin Fish was the first private restaurant to operate on public grounds in the city back in 2004, a partnership soon copied at other locations across Minneapolis. It's been lucrative for the city, which gets hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from the venture.

For now, the Priests plan to keep lobbying the Park Board to let their restaurant return next spring under new operators. In lieu of that, they're just trying to enjoy their last few hours on the lake.

"It's kind of like watching your kids grow up," Athena Priest said. "At some point they're going to leave and you're sad, but right now we're going to enjoy it."