Restaurant news: Kozlak's, Serlin's

  • Updated: December 11, 2013 - 2:15 PM

Going, but not gone. Yet.

Kozlak’s Royal Oak (4785 Hodgson Rd., Shoreview, www.kozlaks.com) has not closed.

Repeat: Kozlak’s Royal Oak has not closed.

“You can’t believe how many calls we get,” said co-owner Mark Satt.

Those callers have it sort of right. That’s because the 36-year-old restaurant is getting ready to leave its current home.

“We tell people to come in and enjoy the restaurant while they can,” said Satt.

Spouses Matt and Lynn Satt own the business but not the building, which belongs to the trust of Lynn’s late father, Jack Kozlak (his parents, Joseph and Gertrude Kozlak, were the founders of Jax Cafe in northeast Minneapolis). The trust was approached by a developer, and the plan is to replace the building with a senior housing complex.

“So we’re searching for a new site, hopefully somewhere close,” said Satt. “The trust has been very flexible with us. We have permission to go through the end of April. But we’re going to assess on a month-to-month basis.”

When the time comes to say goodbye to the restaurant — beloved for its pretty gardens and popular Sunday jazz brunch — the Satts won’t keep it a secret.

“We’ll have a big blast, and really savor the place,” he said. “This has been such an emotional experience for us. You like to look forward, but there’s an awful lot of history, and memories, that have been put into this place.”

So long, Serlin’s

On the subject of legacy restaurants, get ready to wave goodbye to Serlin’s Cafe (1124 Payne Av., St. Paul, 651-776-9003).

Owners and brothers Al and Gary Halvorsen (stepsons of founder Irv Serlin, who died in 1994) have sold their family’s 67-year-old diner — a longtime favorite of the State Capitol crowd — to Charles Cook and Eddie Wu III. The restaurant’s last day will be Saturday.

Wu and Cook aren’t letting the East Side institution go quietly.

“The Halversens said that they were planning on business as usual, but we want to be there, tooting their horns,” said Wu. “We’re hoping people will stop by and say ‘thanks’ to the Halversens, or stop in one last time for their last slice of Serlin’s pie, or their last stack of pancakes, or their last burger.”

As an added incentive, Wu and Cook will spend the day handing out free cake. The gesture is also doubling as a kind of preview of coming attractions, since one of the elements of their new enterprise is providing space for Keikeu Cake Boutique, a custom cake operation run by Wu’s wife Eve.

When the restaurant reopens — they hope in mid-January — the name on the door will be Cook St. Paul, offering a classic, made-from-scratch diner menu at breakfast and lunch, served daily. Dinner will be phased in later. Desserts will come from the Keikeu kitchen.

Wu and Cook, friends since kindergarten, got their first taste of the restaurant business as 14-year-old dishwashers at the former Drover’s Inn in their hometown of South St. Paul.

The duo haven’t finalized a lot of menu details yet, although there’s a plan to offer an homage to Serlin’s famous turkey dinners. Wu is tinkering with a spicy, Korean-style burger, inspired by his recent tenure at St. Paul’s Sole Cafe, and Cook’s chicken wild rice soup has definite signature-dish potential.

A code-initiated renovation will unfortunately require the demise of the cafe’s wood booths.

“But we’re going to try as much as possible to make it look as it would have in the 1930s and 1940s,” said Wu. “We want to be the neighborhood place. That’s who we are.”

RICK NELSON

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