Diners have until June to eat one last plate of walleye on Grand Avenue
St. Paul restaurant Tavern on Grand announced on Facebook today, January 18, that it will close this June after a nearly 35-year run. The message was short and sweet: “We are truly grateful to have been able to make our famous walleye and homemade meals for nearly 35 years,” it reads. “This could have only been accomplished with the love and support of our customers, community, and staff. We are thankful to have been like a home to many over the years with memories to last several lifetimes.”
Tavern on Grand is famous for its grilled walleye, which founder David Wildmo, legend has it, once served to Mikhail Gorbachev when the former Soviet president was in town for a governor’s luncheon. (These days, it’s reputed to serve around 15 tons of walleye a year.) First opened in 1990, the restaurant has passed down to Wildmo’s family — Ashley LeMay, Eric LeMay, and Tara Padilla — who told the Star Tribune that a number of factors led to their decision to close.
One was the recent passing of their mother, Mary, who took over the Tavern from after Wildmo’s death in 2001, learning the restaurant business inside-out. She passed away in January of 2023. Her widower, Daniel Ryan, has also been involved in the business — he told the Strib that Mary was the “heart” of the Tavern.
Other contributing factors were inflation, a drop in business since the onset of the pandemic, and the Tavern approaching the end of its lease — plus reduced foot traffic, a marked change in the character of Grand Avenue. Chris Le May told the Strib that in the Tavern’s early days, Grand Ave was a “huge walking street,” its sidewalks packed on weekend nights. But these days, Padilla said, “It just feels a little more sterile.”
Grand Avenue has seen its fair share of business closures in the past few years. Just this month, neighboring restaurant Salut Bar Americain shut down, citing inflation and reduced foot traffic due to nearby retail closures, including Pottery Barn, Anthropologie, and leather goods store J.W. Hulme. The State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, a Columbus-based pension fund, owns both the Pottery Barn space and the building that housed Salut, according to Kare 11, plus a number of properties on Grand Avenue and elsewhere in the city. The STRS has recently come under fire for letting many of its St. Paul storefronts sit vacant.
Tavern on Grand is inviting customers to come by for a meal before it closes this summer. Kitchen hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day; the bar stays open til midnight Sunday through Thursday, and 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.