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Oakland’s Tolly’s to reopen this month

September 9, 2018
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Tolly’s is set to open sometime in mid-September. The restaurant has been Tolly’s since 1968 but has gone through a few owners since 2001. Paul Tollefson, the son of the original owners Terry and Carol Tollefson, bought the building and is restoring it to its former glory.

Terry Tollefson passed away just months after his son, Paul Tollefson, purchased back the restaurant his parents owned and expanded in Oakland. Now, the younger Tollefson is planning on opening the family business, Tolly’s, in all of its original glory by the middle of this month.

The Tollefson family had originally purchased the historic building, at 115 Locust St., with their friends, Don and Erma Mode, who started Mode’s Emporium. In 1968, the Tollefsons turned the building into Tolly’s restaurant, offering sandwiches and eventually, a soda fountain.

“In 1970, they put in an arch between them and opened it up,” Tollefson said. “Initially we did just a family style deal. It was very quaint.”

Tollefson was 14 years old when he and Claude Green became the restaurant’s first waiters.

“He was a very professional waiter,” Tollefson said. “He taught me everything I knew as a little kid.”

The family expanded the business from a little soda fountain to a destination restaurant, adding a patio in the back, expanding the dining space on the second level, but always maintained a classic feel.

“We’re super excited to bring back the old menus. We literally cleared out the old fryers and brought back the classic kitchen lineup so we can prepare the recipes we used to,” Tollefson said. “All of the favorite recipes that used to be on the menu are coming back and we’re adding in what I would call Tolly’s 2.0 menu, which will include gluten-free and vegan items and things that will help bring our menu into the 21st century.”

The family owned the restaurant until 2001 when they sold it due to family health concerns and a desire to slow down. They purchased the building again in 2003, and sold it again in 2008. According to the Douglas County Assessor’s Office, the restaurant takes up two parcels for a combined 5,764 square feet and has a total real market value of nearly $386,000.

“Part of the reason it was a struggle was (the other owners) tried to bring a different concept but kept the name,” Tollefson said.

Five years later, the business had been foreclosed, so Don Knight and his family purchased it from the bank in 2013.

“(The Knights) saw the value of the restaurant for the city and they wanted to keep it alive and open, supporting the local economy,” Tollefson said. “It’s really important to acknowledge the Knights for their contribution in keeping Tolly’s open and the name alive, it was a huge thing for them to do that.”

When Don Knight passed away, the family decided to close the business and put it up for sale. The restaurant had been listed since summer 2016 when Tollefson decided to get involved.

A friend in Oakland reached out to Tollefson and asked to seriously consider bringing back the business. Tollefson agreed and split time between Tahoe and Marlin in California and Oakland in Oregon to get it done and maintain his job as a mortgage banker.

“We are a destination restaurant, and our quality has to be perfect and the experience has to be perfect,” Tollefson said. “That’s the type of thing that our customers are expecting when they come because it’s a long way to travel for something special. We’re really excited about the local support we’re receiving as well.”

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