After four and a half years on the corner of Cleveland and Marshall avenues in St. Paul, Tillie's Farmhouse has quietly closed its doors.
"Well friends, it’s been an honor to serve you," Kari Grittner, who owned Tillie's with her son and business partner Tom Grittner, wrote to their followers last week. "We closed our doors for the last time this past weekend."
The casual, country-style restaurant and bakery opened in the old Trotter's space in 2017, serving fresh, from-scratch food to the Merriam Park neighborhood. Then, of course, the pandemic hit.
Kari Grittner tells Racket that in reflecting on the last few years, she realized that 2020—while undoubtedly difficult—was also challenging "in a good way." After closing for a little over a month, she and Tom hopped on the line, cooking and doing dishes while her daughter worked in front, running food out to people waiting in their cars.
"In this industry, you're always solving problems and trying to make things work, and to be able to do that—to flip around quite quickly and do takeout and family meals, and figure out what's going to resonate with customers and what can we do with the staff that we have... we were working really hard, but having fun at it."
But 2021, she says, was "a nothing kind of year." The cost of goods shot up, the labor pool shrunk. People were still hesitant to eat out given the ongoing COVID surge. Every month was getting busier and busier, but Tom just had a second kid, and he'd done some reflecting of his own about priorities over the course of the pandemic.
There's a timeline in which Tillie's shut down again for a complete remodel, reopening next year as something new, something fresh, "something more efficient." But not in this timeline. "The business was there, but in reflection through 2020, we just decided it was time to move on to something else," Grittner says.
Rather than struggling to rebuild and rehire, she says it felt right to sell and give someone else the opportunity to move in. And already, some exciting stuff is in the works: The Pioneer Press reports that that folks behind Estelle will soon open a pizza place called Mario's in their old space at 232 Cleveland Avenue.
And Grittner says Tillie's will be back in a different form, someday, though she doesn't know exactly what or where just yet.
"As I look back, I really have nothing but good memories," she says. Tillie's was a home, a place where she felt solid and grounded. "We had a great time. The fun we had, the craziness... I think I'm just really proud of what we did there on that corner. It was a dream. Not many people get to do that in their life."