Eau Claire eats

Digest this: the history behind Grand Avenue Cafe

Avery Shanahan

More stories from Avery Shanahan

Many Eau Claire residents — and university students — agree that coffee and a cozy atmosphere offers a great study or workspace. The Grand Avenue Cafe located near downtown Eau Claire offers that and much more.

Grand Avenue Cafe is located on Grand Ave near Downtown Eau Claire.

Grand Avenue Cafe has been a popular breakfast and lunch spot for Eau Claire County locals for more than 25 years. The current cafe owner, Debra Retallick, purchased the cafe 20 years ago from the previous owners — Kayanna and Joseph Spooner.

“My husband was really into the cooking idea part of it and we had three children, so it was a family affair for a long time,” Retallick said. 

Retallick said that the cafe’s menu features a book theme, incorporated into its menu items. The menu itself features ‘chapters,’ which separate the breakfast and lunch menus. 

Inside the menu, one can find that most of the food items are named after titles of classic books. This concept was created by the original owners of the café: Thomas Knowlton and his children.

“As we try to think of new menu items, we have to think of new names that go along with a book,” Retallick said.

Some of these book-themed menu items include Hamlet, How The West Was Won and Moby Tuna. Some of their more distinctive menu items include a grilled pesto pizza sandwich and their “Ironic Rueben” — which features no meat but contains grilled sauerkraut sauteed in green bell peppers and swiss cheese.

When asked about well-liked menu items, Retallick said the most popular menu item is the famous Bistro Bread Pudding.

Common descriptions of the cafe from customers and staff alike are “cozy” and “a feeling of a close community.” The Grand Avenue has a number of regular customers who have been coming to enjoy the food and atmosphere for many years. 

Carleen Baron has been employed with Grand Avenue for about a year-and-a-half. Baron began working as a server and has recently transitioned to working in the kitchen. She had previously worked in a corporate job and wanted to work somewhere local with a “mom and pop” feel. 

Grand Avenue Cafe displays artwork from the community on its walls for people to simply view or purchase.

When asked about special qualities she has found working at the Grand Avenue, Baron said the regular customers bring character and community into the cafe. 

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve noticed is the regulars in here, the people that are always coming in just have a lot of character,” Barron said. “It’s a lot of people from the community but also a lot of students and it’s cool to see how everyone comes together.” 

Emma Zenzen, an employee at Grand Avenue Cafe completes her orders for cafe patrons during lunch.

Jessica Meyer, a customer at the cafe, is a local to Eau Claire and has been coming to Grand Avenue Cafe for years. Meyer was also accompanied by a first-time Grand Avenue customer, Abby Deyo. 

Both patrons said their favorite part of the cafe was the cozy atmosphere it has, right as you walk into the door.

“I love the vibe, just the old fashion style,” Deyo said. “It’s very cozy.”

When asked to describe the atmosphere of her own cafe, Retallick said they have been referred to as ‘Grandma’s House’ by many of their regular customers. 

The ‘cozy’ vibe of Grand Avenue has had to be adjusted throughout the last few months. Retallick said the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the cafe tremendously. Tables have been spread to the perimeter of the space to offer more room to properly social-distance. 

To experience Grand Avenue Cafe, you can find it located near downtown, at 119 West Grand Avenue, or check them out on Facebook or their online ordering website.

Shanahan can be reached at [email protected]