OAKLAND — Tolly’s Grill & Soda Fountain has been more than a restaurant for the people of Oakland since it opened at 115 NE Locust St., more than 40 years ago.
“It’s been a mainstay in Oakland, it’s one of our biggest businesses in a tiny historic town,” said Linda West, vice president of Oakland Economic Development. The business is currently in need of a new owner, as it has been up for sale since summer 2016.
Existing in the same 6,164-square-foot building built in 1892, the business has sold several times over the years, and has gone back and forth between the original owners — Carol and Terry Tollefson — and other business owners.
Tolly’s is listed on real estate website LoopNet.com with an asking price of $490,000, or $79.49 per square foot.
West said as far as she’s concerned, Oakland would not look like it does today without the Tollefsons. In the 1960s, when the downtown area was home to empty, boarded-up storefronts, the Tollefsons opened Tolly’s as a sandwich shop. They grew the business over the years, adding in a soda fountain and other features.
“They were heroes in Oakland,” West said of the Tollefsons. “They had a good time, they had a lot of fun doing it.”
The Tollefsons also owned an antique shop and several other buildings in Oakland, and Carol Tollefson was instrumental in getting the town listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
When the Tollefsons retired, they sold it to a couple of people who weren’t successful with the business. The Tollefsons bought it back for a time, but had to sell it again when they left town due to health problems. It was put up for auction and the people who purchased it had remembered enjoying Tolly’s from years ago for birthday parties and celebrations.
Mayor Bette Keehley said it was smart of them to keep the name “Tolly’s” because it’s world-renowned, and she’s met people from across the world who visited Tolly’s while touring Oregon.
Finding they spread themselves too thin with different ventures in different places, these owners decided to close the restaurant and leave Oakland. It sat empty for about six months.
“We in this town realized how important it is to have Tolly’s there because the town went totally dead,” Keehley said. “It’s our enterprise business, it’s our key to being successful.”
Don Knight and his family were good friends of the Tollefsons, according to West and Keehley, and they didn’t want to see the business disappear. The Knights, who are involved in the construction industry, purchased Tolly’s and hired back the same employees that had previously worked there.
“It was nice, the same people in the same place. It was like it never stopped,” Keehley said. “The Knights were very generous to the city and made it possible for us to live a little longer.”
Last summer, Don Knight passed away and the business went to his family.
Keehley said the Knights do construction and aren’t restaurant folks.
“The younger people in the Knight family would like to sell the business and get out from underneath it and get back to doing what their chosen professions are,” Keehley said.
West said she’s hoping someone will come along to buy Tolly’s, and she’s envisioning something like a McMenamin’s.
“It’d be awfully nice to keep it open,” Keehley said. “It would be a sad day in Oakland if and when Tolly’s ever went away.”