Kozlak’s Royal Oak Restaurant, known as much for its beautiful gardens and graceful grove of towering trees as for its classy dining and Sunday jazz brunch, is closing March 15 after nearly 40 years in business.
The Kozlak’s property has been sold, and the restaurant at the busy corner of Hodgson Road and Tanglewood Drive in Shoreview will be demolished to make way for a 77-unit senior residential cooperative. Construction is planned to start this summer.
Lynn Satt, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Mark, said the couple have been searching for the past several months for a new restaurant to buy or operate, and would like to keep as many employees, many of whom have been at Kozlak’s for years, on staff as possible.
“We’d like to stay on this side of town; it could even be Stillwater, Vadnais Heights. There’s just not a lot available. It’s been difficult,” said Satt, who along with her husband is the third generation of restaurateurs in the Kozlak family. “If there was a country club, we could walk in and run their catering operation. Our staff is so good at weddings.”
Satt’s grandparents, Joseph and Gertrude Kozlak, founded Jax Café in Minneapolis in 1943. Their three sons later went into the business and built Jax into one of the state’s largest free-standing restaurants. Her parents, Ruth and Jack Kozlak, bought the old Sandpiper Restaurant in Shoreview in 1977 a little more than a week after Jack spotted it in a Sunday newspaper auction notice.
When Jack Kozlak died in 2012, the Kozlak’s building and land were put into a trust as part of the estate, though the Satts kept the business, Lynn Satt said. It was always part of the plan to eventually sell the property, but the decision to close is very emotional, she said.
The next couple of weeks will be savored as a farewell celebration, with the Jimtones, Mark Satt’s rock band, playing a final time on Saturday night.
Mary Hilfiker, who edited “Shoreview Reflections,” a history of the community, said the restaurant will definitely be missed. It has been both a place for special occasions and for a core of local regulars who appreciated the kind of elegant dining experience that is becoming more rare.
“It was really the only place in the northern suburbs for that kind of thing,” Hilfiker said. Longtime staff and customers know one another’s names, and the garden, patio and mature oak trees made it a relaxed setting.
The restaurant’s closing also brings an end to decades of food and hospitality businesses at the busy intersection, Hilfiker added. When truck farmers from Anoka were bringing their goods to market in St. Paul by horse and wagon, they would stop there for the night at an inn called the Halfway House. The Sandpiper had opened by 1966, but had been abandoned and neglected when the Kozlaks bought it from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“It was a total mess,” Hilfiker said.
Terry Schwerm, Shoreview’s city manager, said the city has been working with the Satts to relocate the restaurant in Shoreview.
In the meantime, Schwerm said converting the old restaurant into new housing for seniors will put the property to good use. The purchase price for the site, which includes an adjoining lot with a single-family home, was $1.3 million, city records show.
Schwerm said creating new housing for seniors will help fill a growing need in the city. The United Properties development, located near the city’s community center and other amenities, is geared for younger seniors who are still active and don’t need care.
As for the property’s majestic oaks, 13 of the 18 mature trees will be spared, according to the redevelopment plans. Dozens of new trees will be added, as well.