Tolly’s restaurant, a historic Oakland landmark known for its elaborate interior featuring antiques, candy-filled cabinets and old-fashioned soda fountain, is closing about one year after its former owners revived it.
Owner Paul Tollefson posted news of the closing Tuesday on Facebook. The restaurant, which dates back 50 years and is housed in a building more than 100 years old, will serve its last meals on Sunday.
“I think Tolly’s has been the crown jewel of Oakland and we’ve been blessed to be a part of that, to be sure,” Tollefson said. “I think the market is a little soft for fine dining and the concept we have. There are a lot of really fantastic places now locally that spread out our base of support. It’s a tough business to make it work.”
Tolly’s is located in a brick building on Locust Street in downtown Oakland that dates back to 1892. Tolly’s is surrounded by other historic brick buildings, including the Historic Oakland Tavern, the Oakland Museum, the Lamplighter Café & Lounge, Stearns Hardware and the Oakland Ice House. Those and other historic buildings in downtown Oakland put the district on the National Register of Historic Places.
Terry and Carol Tollefson originally purchased the building with their friends, Don and Erma Mode, who started Mode’s Emporium. In 1968, the Tollefsons turned it into Tolly’s restaurant to offer sandwiches and later added a soda fountain.
The restaurant, which actually consists of two buildings totaling nearly 5,800 square feet, has gone through several different owners over the years. The Tollefsons sold it in 2001, bought it again in 2003, and sold it again in 2008. Five years later the business, which had been foreclosed, was purchased from the bank by a local family.
However, the family closed the business in 2016 and put it up for sale. The restaurant sat vacant for two years before the Tollefsons bought it back in the summer of 2018.
Tolly’s current manager, Patti Taylor, helped clean the place up before it reopened.
Unfortunately, business never rebounded, Taylor said.
“We were hoping for a lot more customers than we got,” she said.
Over the years Tolly’s has been known as much for its eclectic setting as for its food. The inside is part restaurant and part museum, featuring antique wood drawers, antlers above the bar, a staircase with a carousel horse at the top, and perhaps most famously the soda fountain with its swivel counter stools.
The spot was a favorite for those celebrating weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and other cherished events. The menu featured everything from Reuben sandwiches to ribeye steaks and chicken chasseur. The dessert menu was also a draw, with pies, cakes and ice cream.
Dorothy Powell took a busload of her neighbors from their senior residence in Medford on a tour last month that included an ice cream break at Tolly’s. Powell and her husband had also visited the restaurant in July and she planned to bring another busload there next summer.
“It’s a little hard to find, you can’t see it from the freeway. But it’s just a fun place to go,” Powell said. “I mean my gosh, they have the old fashioned milkshakes. It’s a perfect stop.”
Tollefson said several items on the menu, including some sandwiches, are named after friends of the family. The most popular is the Creighton B — a triple- decker named after Oakland rancher Creighton Baxter and consisting of corned beef, salami, Lappi cheese, tomatoes, onions and sauce.
“Our menu is a biography of the people in Oakland,” Tollefson said.
The web site touts the restaurant as the place “Where history is forever in style.” The site also refers to Tolly’s as “an Oregon culinary landmark” that would bring over 150,000 visitors a year to Oakland.
Taylor remembers those busy times. She started working at the restaurant 20 years ago and worked there for about eight years before leaving for other pursuits. She came back to the restaurant in 2018 when the Tollefsons bought it again.
“When I first started here there were lines out the door,” Taylor said, adding that tour buses loaded with customers would stop at the restaurant.
The restaurant employs about two dozen workers during the high season and has about 15 now, Tollefson said. The staff is planning a party for Saturday night, he said. Sunday will be “business as usual,” he said. After the closure, he said, the property will be put up for sale.
Tollefson also said the closing of the restaurant, which was basically a second home to him and his two brothers, is bittersweet.
“I’m super grateful to have had the opportunity to have it open again because we just love Oakland, we love Douglas County and we’re proud to be part of the history of the community,” he said. “But it will be sad not to be a hub anymore. We’ve tried to foster a community environment here, and the biggest sadness of us closing is not being as closely connected to the community.”