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Russian Tea House owners close the popular St. Paul neighborhood spot

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Nikolai and Linda Alenov, the owners of the Russian Tea House in St. Paul.
Nikolai and Linda Alenov, the owners of the Russian Tea House in St. Paul.
Courtesy of the Alenov family

The owners of the Russian Tea House in St. Paul are closing their restaurant for good on Saturday after 40 years in business.

Husband-and-wife team Linda and Nikolai Alenov announced last week on the restaurant's Facebook page that they were ready to retire.

They want to slow down after Nikolai began to deal with a heart condition earlier this year.

An outpouring of support online followed and continued in person on Friday afternoon, when the Alenovs wound down to their last couple of lunch shifts.

"It just brought tears to my eyes," Nikolai Alenov said. "To have the response from hundreds of people from years ago saying how they enjoyed our food — that was my goal."

Customers formed a long line outside of the restaurant on University Avenue to buy the last poppy seed rolls and other popular Russian pastries.

Customers wait in line in front of the Russian Tea House
Customers wait in line in front of the Russian Tea House along University Avenue in St. Paul on its second-to-last day on Friday. The store closes for good on Saturday.
Nina Moini | MPR News

Julie Sieber of Arden Hills used to work down the street many years ago. Seiber said the neighborhood has changed a lot but the Russian Tea House has managed to keep its popularity and charm.

"It's like something you would see in a village," Sieber said. "It's something you can't get anywhere else so that makes it special."

Most customers who described the Russian Tea House as "homey" knew that it was actually a family home that belonged to Nikolai Alenov's father. He made a gift of it to the couple decades ago.

"We were starving artists desperate for work," Nikolai Alenov said.

The couple turned the downstairs into a restaurant and lived upstairs for many years.

Nikolai and Linda Alenov, the owners of the Russian Tea House in St. Paul
Nikolai and Linda Alenov, the owners of the Russian Tea House in St. Paul, who are retiring.
Courtesy of the Alenov family

They raised two children during what were some of the most hectic times Linda Alenov can remember, but customers always understood.

"I would be interrupted a million times and people have always been very kind and loving," she said. "They feel more like friends and family, honestly."

Linda Alenov spent the final days in the restuarant personally packing and ringing up hundreds of orders. She gave each customer a hug.

The future of the house in uncertain. The Alenovs said they were grandfathered over the years with changing codes, but the Minnesota Department of Health likely would not allow another restaurant to be in the current space.

As Nikolai Alenov's health improves, he is considering writing a cookbook.