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Russian Tea House to close after 40 years

Last call for borscht and kindness.

Last call for borscht and kindness. Facebook: Russian Tea House

We get it, April; you’re the cruelest month.

First, Meyvn called it quits. Then Lee’s Liquor Lounge announced its impending doom. Now Nikolai and Linda Alenov of St. Paul’s Russian Tea House have thrown in the towel.

On a post dated Wednesday evening, the couple announced their “40-year Tea House adventure,” would be coming to an end—this time forever—as of May 4.

The pair have remained transparent regarding how rough this winter was for them, including taking a break from serving pelmeni and tea cookies while Nikolai recovered from a successful heart surgery during February and March. At the time, the Alenovs left their options open, yet son-in-law David Bearon (acting as “owner’s rep”) told City Pages, “They figured now was the time for them to really focus on transitioning to the next phase of their lives.”

In their Facebook post, the Russian Tea House thanked its customers, likening them to family “from the get-go,” before alluding to the transition Bearon spoke of. “We have always said our ‘retirement plan’ was to work until one of us dropped and although we haven't quite ‘dropped,’ alas we are teetering,” said the couple’s heartfelt message.

A profound outpouring of well wishes from the community began immediately.

“They’re always surprised when people like them—and it’s genuine surprise,” laughed Bearon.“It’s like, ‘Yes! I just [posted] this post that you wanted, and it already has 60 likes and 20 comments. I literally posted it, like, 15 minutes ago.’ And they’re like “Really?” And Nick, in true Nick fashion, is like, ‘No… We’re gonna be so busy!’ Which is hysterical!”

For her part, Linda says the instant response has been a little less surprising. “I know that my customers feel like I do toward them – they’re family, they’re very loyal, it’s been very many years we’ve spent together. It’s not a surprising thing, but it’s a wonderful thing for me to have experienced, and I’m very grateful. I feel unworthy of such wonderful customers.”

When asked how he’ll describe the Tea House to those who will never get to see it in person, Bearon became emotional, shifting to past-tense, and gestured at a sense of comfort that remained constant across decades in a city built on change. “It was like… going to visit your grandparents. Eating that family recipe that no one else can prepare.”

“It’s bittersweet," he continued. "I mean, thank God we had this time with them. They’re such a unique part of St. Paul’s history.”

As for the couple’s retirement plans, they’ll be sticking close to home, where they agree they’ll be sad not to see customers regularly, but won’t miss bagging tea cakes and endlessly chopping onions. “We love biking, and walking and hiking. Minnesota offers a lot of that … So maybe we’ll run into our customers somewhere on a bike trail or a walking trail,” offered Linda, with that familiar smile in her voice.

The final days of the Russian Tea House will be Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4. No hot food will be on offer, but cold and frozen takeaway items will be for sale until they're gone, as will desserts, glassware, and T-shirts.

Tea, as always, will be on the house.