It’s a place where everyone knows your name and you are only a stranger once. The Wayzata Bar & Grill, affectionately called “the Muni” by locals, bills itself as the Cheers of Wayzata. Staff members cater to customers by remembering special drinks and entrees, and customers return for the food and camaraderie.
Regular Greg Rye says he first came for lunch from the salad bar but wound up bewitched by the Muni charm. “I fell in love with the place 20 years ago,” says Rye. “I’m a creature of habit and it’s a very comfortable place to be.”
Rye now calls the Muni his “office.” Staff members reserve his favorite booth where he meets with clients over an extended lunch, much like he has for 20-plus years.
“Greg is here every day for lunch by 10:50 and he’s sitting in booth number 80,” says general manager Gina Holman. Holman has worked for the Muni for 17 years, and she’s had several favorite customers who are as much a part of the Muni as the tables and chairs. “This has always been a hometown gathering place,” she says.
The City of Wayzata established the Minnetonka Bar and Lounge or Blue room on Lake Street in 1947. Profit from the restaurant and adjoining liquor store went into the general fund, just like it does today. “Muni revenue has been typically earmarked for the repair and maintenance of Wayzata’s roads and lights,” says Mayor Ken Willcox. “We say, ‘Buy a burger. Fill a pothole.’”
In 1967, the business moved to a new location on Superior Street where it operated under a few different names. For the past 24 years, the name has officially been the Wayzata Bar & Grill and Wayzata Wine & Spirits. In April 2011, redevelopment of the Wayzata Bay Center triggered a move to a new city-owned location that’s essentially right across the street from the old location. The city hopes the Mill Street location will continue bringing in revenue that the city now depends upon.
“The funds transferred to the city from the Muni are typically the equivalent of what the city’s share would be on the property taxes of roughly 300 homes valued at $350,000,” says Mayor Willcox. “That’s what it would take to replace the Muni contribution—and that’s tough to do in a city that’s basically fully built out.”
Besides the award-winning food and ambiance of the restaurant and bar, the liquor store also offers unique flavor that keeps people coming back. “We are unique in that we have a municipally owned liquor store and restaurant under the same roof,” says Holman, who is also a certified sommelier. The liquor store used to be referred to as the “package store,” but you can hardly call the new location by the old nickname.
A wide array of wine, spirits and beer are on sale with emphasis placed on unique brands and local varieties. Holman plans to specialize in wines from Minnesotans who embarked on a venture with a vineyard. “We’re highlighting anyone who lived here and fulfilled their dream out in the wine community,” says Holman. The new store also includes tasting bars, educational workshops and a membership program for patrons.
But can the Muni maintain the same charm in a new location? Staff members think so, and they are going out of their way to mix the new with the memories, like remembering Ron and Lucille Engel.
The Engels owned The Foursome clothing store and came to the Muni everyday for lunch. “They were fixtures,” Holman says. “They’ve passed away, but they made this place.”
The couple loved the burgers, pull-tabs and the consistent staff. “The staff would save their booth, which was the one with the photo of the old Foursome above it with a basket of popcorn,” remembers the Engel’s granddaughter Nicole Chose. “My grandpa would share a burger with whomever was the lucky Foursome employee joining them for lunch that day.” As the couple aged, staff members would reserve their booth and even shovel a pathway out of the snow to their reserved parking spot.
“Because of individuals like Ron and Lucille and Greg Rye, we have plaques that are going on some of the tables in the new place to remember and pay tribute to those loyal customers who made it what it was,” says Holman. “The Muni is about community and people and relationships.”