During this chaotic year of heartbreak and change within the restaurant industry, it’s hard to imagine celebrating.
But when a local restaurant marks being a part of the community for 50 years, we have to find space to do just that.
The neighborhood gathering spot Tiffany’s Sports Lounge began when 20-year-old Danny Montpetit bought the restaurant on New Year’s Eve 1970. He took control of the place, which was more of a bar back then, on New Year’s Day, 1971.
“My dad was more of a bar guy,” said Blake Montpetit, who took over ownership from his dad in 2012. Back then, a bottle of beer was 50 cents and a pitcher was a whopping $1.
Everyone asks who Tiffany is, but the truth is that the restaurant is named after the Tiffany art deco lamps, now in storage, that used to hang throughout the lounge.
Over the years, many changes would morph the restaurant into what it is today. Probably the biggest change was the expansion and addition of a kitchen in 1982, which is when Tiffany’s began serving a full food menu.
“We had burgers, sandwiches, fresh-cut fries,” Montpetit said. But still, it was very much a bar.
Then in 2006, when the indoor smoking ban was passed, Tiffany’s and other restaurants had to re-think their business model.
“We did a big kitchen expansion to add more food and be more family-friendly,” Montpetit said. “We added more homemade items. Pretty much everything is now made from scratch.”
In 2018, the restaurant expanded for a third time, adding another 1,700 square feet to make it the 5,000-square-foot space it is today. High booths that feature televisions on both sides were added. During “normal times” the restaurant now seats about 230.
The sports lounge aspect of the restaurant has grown over time, too. Montpetit family came from Somerset, Wis., and was one of the first bars to add a big satellite so that Packers fans could catch a game when it wasn’t airing locally.
Then in the late 1990s, a series of coincidences led to Tiff’s becoming the local KU (University of Kansas) basketball headquarters.
“Everyone thinks I went to Kansas and I’m from Green Bay,” Montpetit said. Neither is true. “Sometimes, you just get lucky.”
Both teams have rabid fans who show up regularly to cheer on their teams, and that has led to some fun promotions over the years. There was one, though, that was more, um, memorable than others.
In 2011, in the run-up to the Packers Super Bowl win, the NFC championship was between the Packers and the Bears.
It just so happens that Montpetit’s cousin had just shot a bear. They thought it would be hilarious to have a bear roast on the day of the game.
The plan garnered worldwide media attention.
“This thing took on a life of its own,” Montpetit said.
Too bad the health department put the kibosh on it. It’s illegal to serve game meat in a restaurant.
They still roasted the bear on a spit outside the restaurant. They didn’t waste it, either. His cousin had a party and served the meat there.
Other memorable events over the years include Kirby Puckett dropping by for a game of pool in 1988 and the addition of a college night on Thursdays where they bring in a DJ and the vibe is a little younger.
Many people, Montpetit said, have met the people they married at Tiff’s.
“They get married, then they bring their kids,” he said. “It becomes a multi-generational place.”
Romance isn’t just limited to customers, either. Montpetit and his romantic partner of nine years, Cait Hurley, met while she was working at Tiffany’s in college. She has a marketing career now, so helps Montpetit get the word out about things like the big anniversary.
The past year has been tough on everyone, the staff at Tiffany’s included.
“It’s humbling. As an entrepreneur, you’re always moving forward, then you’re forced to just stop,” Montpetit said of the shutdowns.
But the pandemic has had a silver lining, in the form of support from customers and neighbors, who showed up, no matter what, to get takeout, order gift cards and generally do whatever they could to make sure the restaurant stayed afloat.
During the riots after George Floyd was killed, neighbors driving by saw Montpetit boarding up the restaurant’s windows and stopped to help.
“Highland Park has been a great community through all of this,” Montpetit said.
His restaurant friends were with him as well.
“DeGidio’s would send our staff lunch, and we’d send lunch back to them. We just did what we could to support each other.”
Though the actual date of the 50th anniversary was overshadowed by the pandemic, Montpetit says as the case numbers go down and vaccinations increase, he’s seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
One of their regulars turned 70 recently, and hadn’t been in since the pandemic began.
“They all got their vaccines and came in to celebrate,” Montpetit said. “We hadn’t seen him in a year. Overall, we’re seeing a lot more smiles and it’s just great to see people out. The mood has definitely shifted in the past month.”
Montpetit and his crew have a few things planned to celebrate. During a remodel, they had to remove the original wood door that had welcomed customers since the restaurant was founded in 1966, but they suspended it over the entryway as a sort of decor. For the anniversary, they’ll sell engraved plaques that will be affixed to the door. Proceeds will go to Serving Our Troops, which offers Minnesota soldiers serving overseas a steak dinner. Their families get one, too, and they all eat together via live video.
They will also be selling some merch — sweatshirts and other apparel — featuring the restaurant’s vintage neon sign.
And when things get back to “normal,” they’re hoping to work out a concert series with Martin Zellar to celebrate.
Tiffany’s Sports Lounge: 2051 Ford Parkway, St. Paul; 651-690-4747; tiffanysportslounge.com
Powered by WPeMatico