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Mounted on a freshly stained cedar fence that surrounds a new patch of lawn in front of Schullers Tavern, a plaque reads "This Is Livin'." It was Ray Jacob's catchphrase.

The longtime owner of a venerable Golden Valley pub loved an outdoor lounge. Having moved here from Lebanon, he always wanted to bring a slice of the Mediterranean lifestyle to his corner of Minnesota.

"Dad's biggest thing was sitting on a patio, beautiful day, and we'd have a couple drinks together, and he'd say, 'Hey, boys. This is living,' " said his son Paul Jacob.

For most of the 30 years he owned it, Ray Jacob dreamed of installing a patio outside Schullers, a bar and restaurant that has faced the Golden Valley Country Club for almost a century. But the cabinlike building, erected before Golden Valley even had a zoning law, wasn't permitted to have outdoor seating — it's in a single-family zoning district — and some neighbors wanted it to stay that way.

Ray Jacob picked away at the obstacles over the years while he continued to tinker with a design. Sons Mark and Paul took over the business when he retired, and even then, the patio idea languished.

But at the end of August 2022, his dream finally came true.

Patio season may be waning across large swaths of the state, but at Schullers, things are just getting started. The neighborhood watering hole just introduced a slick new patio, complete with verdant landscaping, a pergola and a burbling waterfall.

But Ray Jacob didn't live to see it. He died in early 2020.

"It was hard to hold back the tears" when the patio was finally opened, said Paul Jacob. "This is what Dad always talked about."

'Everybody here is family'

On a recent warm evening, groups of friends, couples on dates and solo guests sat at a mix of low- and high-tops on the stone patio. Beer glasses — large or larger — dotted the black metal tables as two servers ran orders of wings and the house specialty, an open-faced turkey sandwich, out to diners.

"I love it," said matriarch Zeina Jacob, who can often be found in the kitchen, preparing the restaurant's signature Lebanese-style garlic sauce. "They did a good job. I'm proud of my kids."

Manager Phil Rooney is an old friend of the Jacob family and has been tending bar at Schullers Tavern in Golden Valley for three decades.
Manager Phil Rooney is an old friend of the Jacob family and has been tending bar at Schullers Tavern in Golden Valley for three decades.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

The brothers practically grew up at Schullers. Sometimes, they'd even sleep there on a couch. "They sent the school bus to pick us up here," Mark Jacob said. "It was the pretty rare occasion that kids got picked up at a bar," Paul Jacob added.

They'd get shuttled to their schools, Good Shepherd and Benilde St. Margaret, then back to help their parents sweep up.

But Schullers is like that, a beloved gathering space that draws people over and over. And not just the people who run it.

"Everybody here is family," said Julie Mestas, a regular from Golden Valley. "Not just the servers and the bartenders and the guys, but it's everybody that comes in. You can come in anytime and there's gonna be somebody you know you can talk to."

"It's kind of like a small-town neighborhood bar," said Phil Rooney, an old friend of Ray Jacob who has tended bar at Schullers Tavern for three decades. "It's a workingman's place."

For some repeat customers, it's a mandatory stop along errand routes. "It's between my house and Menards, my house and Byerly's," said Gary Goodrum, of New Hope. "I moved here from St. Cloud 26 years ago, so I grew up with 3.2 bars, and this has the 3.2 neighborhood family feel to it."

All that was threatened in 2020, when the pandemic put indoor dining on hold. To help restaurants, municipalities across the United States relaxed zoning rules and allowed businesses to set up sidewalk cafes and parking lot patios. That was Schullers' way in.

The Jacob family used the opportunity to prove that outdoor seating would not disrupt the residential neighborhood. They elected to shut down the outdoor space at 10 p.m., preempting any issues. "And they saw that we could do it," said Mark Jacob. "It's one of the few good things" that came out of COVID.

"I think that kind of started the conversation up again," said Shep Harris, mayor of Golden Valley. "They came to us and said, 'Hey, we're doing this. Let's just keep going.' "

This time, Schullers applied for a conditional use permit, a specific ordinance that authorized them to operate a patio for two years. But the family had its sights set on something more permanent, and they built according to Ray Jacob's longtime dream.

Jeff Ridley and his daughter Kalli Ridley took in the recently completed patio at Schullers Tavern in Golden Valley.
Jeff Ridley and his daughter Kalli Ridley took in the recently completed patio at Schullers Tavern in Golden Valley.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

Part of the city's history

Ray Jacob wasn't alone in his vision for an outdoor oasis. An old friend, Steve Sands, had collected boulders from a reconstruction project along I-394 decades earlier and saved them in his yard, with the intention to create a wall for a water feature. Now they finally would be used, even after Sands died in 2019. Another longtime collaborator on the project was Steve Klucas of Landworks Inc., the landscaper who finalized the plans.

"There's quite a bit of meaning to it," Mark Jacob said. "There's quite a bit of history for Golden Valley that is tied into the whole place."

The city acknowledged as much at meetings earlier this year that led to the patio's approval. Even Mayor Harris stopped by Schullers recently to enjoy an early fall evening outside — and a pepperjack-stuffed Juicy Lucy.

"They've got the right kind of comfort food," Harris said.

"I think that the community really does appreciate Schullers, values Schullers, and is welcoming the patio with open arms," he added. "It really is part of our city's history, and how the city evolved over time from a small little village into the city that we know today."

The patio is part of that evolution. And it will keep evolving. One idea is to serve a simple al fresco breakfast of coffee and doughnuts through a takeout window and bar at the back of the tavern that is still being built. Sure to be popular with golfers across the street at the country club, the Jacobs want to call it "The 19th Hole."

But at any institution with some history, resistance to change is inevitable. Even in jest. "People were like, 'You're making Schullers too fancy,' " Paul Jacob said. "I'm like, look, we're never messing with Schullers ... but the patio's outside."

As the weather changes, the brothers will be installing gas heaters, and hoping Minnesotans' resilience will keep things going at least until late October. It took 30 years to get the patio open, and they're not shutting down anytime soon.

Schullers Tavern

7345 Country Club Drive, Golden Valley, 763-545-9972, schullerstavern.com. Open 10 a.m.-1 a.m. daily.

The Jacob family also owns two locations of Ray J's American Grill: 500 Central Av. SE., Mpls., 612-353-4554; 9854 Norma Lane, Woodbury, 651-714-2035; ray-js.com