Linda & Nikolai: Transitions: University Ave

Linda and Nikolai Alenov have co-owned and run St Paul's Russian Tea House for decades


What are your names and what business do you run on University Avenue?

My name is Linda Alenov, I’m a part owner of the Russian Tea House.

My name is Nikolai Alenov, I’m also an owner of the Russian Tea House on University Avenue.

How long has the Russian Tea House been here?

We’ve been here about 32 years now. We started as a small carry out. The busier we got, people wanted to sit and we slowly expanded to another room. Eventually, once our children got old enough we bought a house near by and converted the upstairs to a dining area. We were one of the first Russian fast food restaurants in the country.

Could you tell us a bit about yourselves and where you are from in this area?

I was raised here in this area and I’ve lived here close to 50 years. My father bought this building here and we’ve lived here, raised our children here.

We both graduated from the College of Art and Design and during the last recession many years ago, 33 or 34 years ago, we wanted to raise a family and decided to open this because Nick’s dad owned the land here.

How did you come up with the name for the business?

Well I was raised in a Russian Church. Little old ladies would always make piroshkies and we would have them for dinners, and then they would have sales. People would come in to buy them, and as I’m growing up I’m watching, and wow, there is a line up of people coming in to buy these little piroshkies. They loved them so much.

How would you describe your restaurant?

The restaurant is a family kind of restaurant, when I say that I mean the customers are also family. I have customers who I know all about. I know their lives, I know their children’s, when they are sad and someone dies in the family they’ll come and look upset and I can tell and we’ll talk about it.

So when the light rail is finished people will most likely stop here?

No, I don’t. Our people are not bus or tram people; they are car people. People who are taking the light rail are going city to city is my guess. In the wintertime here do you think people are going to get off and walk 3 blocks to our restaurant, no way, man. It’s not going to happen. No I don’t believe it will make any difference whatsoever.

What are your concerns about light rail being built on University Avenue?

Obviously, traffic will be a little more tight. The left turn lanes will be gone. People will avoid University a little more I think than usual. It is not going to be a real positive feeling as far as our business. It’s going to be nice having the light rail.

Would you move if it got a little bit hectic?

No, we won’t move. We’re the Russian Tea House.

Made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.