Although this iconic restaurant wasn’t in St. Louis Park but in neighboring Golden Valley, it was close enough to be a part of our history and certainly our memories!
Just across what was Highway 12 (now I-394), the Jolly Troll Smorgasbord was at 5418 Wayzata Blvd. in the Golden Hills Shopping Center, just east of Turner’s Crossroad. Golden Hills was a victim to construction of 394 in about 1988 and all that remains is the Metropolitan and a huge abandoned parking lot.
A 1970 ad promises Swedish dishes – Swedish meatballs, koldomar, Swedish sausages, etc. Appealing to the entire family with animated 30″ Trolls. Scandinavian village on one wall.”
See Roundhouse Rodney at the Jolly Troll in this video.
On January 27, 2012, Gail Rosenbaum of the StarTribune wrote about the Jolly Troll:
Jolly Troll was the original Twin Cities’ smorgasbord, first located in Golden Valley where the Metropolitan is now, and featuring enough Swedish meatballs, pickled herring and cranberry fluff to feed 500 people at once.
To native Minnesotans whose heartfelt blog entries urge a return of the Jolly Troll, or who have created Jolly Troll Facebook pages, or whose dreams are filled with odd little mechanical bearded men in chef’s hats stirring soup, I bring heartening news. The “Jolly Troll heiress” still lives in the Twin Cities.
Carole Jean Anderson is the daughter of Ray A. Anderson, who created the Jolly Troll chain in 1964 after an inspiring trip to Scandinavia with his wife, Alice. One of the few living family members, Anderson is a still-reliable keeper of this nod to nostalgia.”
“When I was a kid, I hated it,” a laughing Anderson said of the all-you-can-eat mecca. “We went every day. Every stinkin’ day! Then I went to college, and I could bring my friends.”
Ray was a “driven” man, she said, who dropped out of school after eighth grade and worked in restaurant sales, bringing home doilies and hair nets. Ray and Alice, who married in 1936, traveled to Sweden in the early 1960s, where they were treated to their first smorgasbord. Ray decided to bring the concept home as “something you will remember.”
What his daughter remembers is lines out the door. “Customers would line up outside,” she said. “You’d go into the kitchen and someone would yell, ‘Busload! All hands on deck!’ It would be insane.”
The big draw, though, wasn’t the price (about $3 a plate). It was the cavernous restaurant’s trolls, hammering and stirring, and the magical sets recreated around them, including a workshop and a barn “pretty close to what my Grandma’s house looked like in Sweden.” Kids loved to come to Jolly Troll for their birthdays, Anderson said, often lured there by TV personality Roundhouse Rodney (I was bereft of that icon, too).
Anderson, who was 10 when the first Jolly Troll opened, helped the “salad ladies,” then moved on to serving coffee, working the cash register, busing tables and carving beef.
Even then, Anderson (eating a low-fat yogurt as we visited) found the all-you-can-eat concept puzzling. “People were just gorging themselves,” she said. “I’d say, ‘Gosh, Dad.’ I called it the Jolly Trough.”
Customers not only gorged. Some stuffed chickens in their purses and filled up brown bags.
Ray died in 1982 at 68. Heart attack. Anderson threw a big party to remember her father, at the Jolly Troll of course. The chain, which had expanded to Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida and Washington state, shut down shortly after he died. Alice died in 2004 at 91. She never remarried.
Anderson graduated from Bethel College with a degree in theater and music, then studied in her twenties at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. The equity actor has performed with the Minnesota History Theatre, Chanhassen Dinner Theatre and Illusion Theater, among others. A few years ago, she performed in the Fringe Festival, taking over the part originated by Holly Davis, titled “All You Can Eat Spiritual Buffet.”
On another audition, she was asked to read from the Coen Brothers “Fargo” script. Perusing the pages, she found a line referring to, what else? The Jolly Troll. (The restaurant had a cameo in the movie, thanks to the kitsch-adoring native sons).
Anderson now sells cars at Westside Volkswagen and is a fashion consultant. But her favorite hat is “Jolly Troll heiress,” she said. “Anytime it comes up, people say, ‘Oh, my gosh. We loved going there as a family.'”
But with more people concerned about their health, and the cost of providing spectacular spreads such as those her father offered, she isn’t surprised that the heyday of buffet is over.
Well, maybe over. More than 400 Old Country Buffet restaurants remain open.