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Cheers to changes at the Ole Store

The Ole store lies just down St. Olaf Avenue–just a few blocks from campus. Photo Credit: Bekah Engstrand

When the Ole Store Restaurant reopened last summer, it introduced a new deal that attracted St. Olaf College students by the dozens: a 3-5 p.m. happy hour offering drinks sold at half their regular price. Happy hour at the Ole Store became a tradition almost instantly among thirsty juniors and seniors.

Students hoping to take the edge off of a busy day could easily take the short walk down St. Olaf Avenue and purchase pints of Summit Extra Pale Ale or Surly Furious – two famous and popular Minnesota brews – for about $2 each. Add in large, but inexpensive servings of french fries and you have a recipe for success among budget-conscious, yet fun-loving college students.

“Happy hour worked great because so many people were there in one place,” Nick Miller ’13 said. “You could have a blast with everyone you know in this tiny, crowded bar that’s so close to campus. It was massive and it had really good, really cheap beer.”

However, when Oles returned to the Hill for classes this fall, many were shocked to learn that the Ole Store no longer offered its happy hour specials. Those who made a habit of buying cheap pints at the Ole Store now must look further afield.

Taylor Bridges ’13 still remembers the day she first learned the Ole Store no longer offered half-off specials. “I was rushing home from the [Twin] Cities after an exhausting day at my summer internship and was trying to meet up with some friends at the Ole Store before happy hour ended,” Bridges said. “I got there just in time, at like 4:55, only to find out that I would have to pay full price for my glass of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale.”

When asked why the establishment was no longer offering its specials, Ole Store hostess Justina Ny ’12 said, “Happy hour was really only a promotional thing, anyway. And last spring it started to get a little too loud and rowdy and began to disrupt the regular dinner hour.”

Ny went on to explain that the restaurant is now offering a couple of daily specials – including a half-off wine Wednesday – in lieu of its weekday happy hours. It remains to be seen whether these deals will be as popular with Oles as the half-off pints of beer.

As one might expect, students’ reactions to the menu change were largely negative, but some Oles also recognized the reasons the restaurant would choose to end its happy hour deals.

“I was upset by the news, and I’m going to miss the deals,” Bob Riordan ’13 said. “But I understand that if they want to attract an older, more upscale customer base, then it makes sense that they don’t want to fill the place with a crowd of loud college students.”

The end of happy hour is only the latest in a series of changes throughout the restaurant’s storied past. The Ole Store Restaurant was originally a grocery store that opened in 1889. Over time it began selling prepared food as well, until it finally became solely a dining establishment. Before the change of ownership in the summer of 2011, the place was known as the Ole Cafe. Along with the name change, the new owners introduced several other changes, including redecorating the interior and overhauling the menu with a focus on local, farm-fresh foods.

Although the Ole Store appears to be a namesake of the college, the restaurant remains more popular among local adults than St. Olaf students. With an upscale environment and dinner entrees that run upwards of $20, it is clear that frugal college students are not the Ole Store’s target demographic.

Miller admits that although he understands the elimination of happy hour, his habit of stopping by the Ole Store after class may change. “I miss it already,” Miller said. “I mean, I’ll still have a beer at the Ole Store once in awhile, but it won’t be the same because it won’t be as popular as before.”