If you are expecting the décor to define TJ’s of Edina Restaurant Pizzeria, don’t. Part kitsch, part Art Deco, part pastoral prints, the walls filling this down-home Edina diner better allude to the diverse menu that seems more suited to Uptown hipsters than suburban regulars who don’t get lost trying to find the restaurant.
Tucked near the back of a nondescript strip mall off West 70th Street, TJ’s is a place where you’ll find everyone-cops, teenagers, businessmen, families, senior citizens-grazing over generous helpings of everything-soup, sandwiches, salads, pizzas, pasta, malts.
This is the way owner Mohammad (call him Mo) Hassanzadeh found the place back in 1990 when he bought it. Sure, he spiced up the menu, adding salads, pastas and gyros, but the loyal customer base of TJ’s hung around. So did the name. “I kept the name because it was popular and people knew it,” Hassanzadeh says, adding that the initials come from the son of the previous owners.
An ambitious 30-years-old fresh off a general manager stint with Denny’s, Hassanzadeh invested all his time, money and promise into TJ’s, his first independent business venture. There was the pressure to keep TJ’s reputation intact and he inspiration to exceed it. With an updated menu and expanded hours, including breakfast, which the previous owners hadn’t offered, Hassanzadeh was on his way to redefining the neighborhood diner.
TJ’s extensive menu ranges from delicious Grecian gyros and hummus with pita bread to deep dish pizzas (there’s even a gyro variety), tuna melts and old-fashioned malts. Daily soup specials warm up the winter yuck with selections like black beans and rice or comfy beer cheese. While coffee may be the usual drink, the restaurant also offers several beer and wine labels.
Hassanzadeh’s business philosophy focuses on variety and is priced accordingly, so that customers can afford to come in three or four times a week and not once a month. After all, regulars account for 80 percent of TJ’s lunch crowd, he proudly notes. Another essential ingredient for a restaurant’s success is service, and TJ’s is one of those places where you’re likely to be greeted by the same wait staff year after year. “I hear every day how good our staff, our service is, and that makes me happy,” Hassanzadeh says, “because a restaurant is all about good food and good service.”
TJ’s is currently Hassanzadeh’s only restaurant, but over the years he owned-and later sold-Nokomis Grill in south Minneapolis and Halftime Sports Bar in Eden Prairie. “ I’m always looking for locations for new TJ’s. I want to stick to the Twin Cities suburbs. If [an expansion] doesn’t come, I’m happy with what I do right here.”
And you know he’s serious. If you have any doubts, just consider the words of wisdom hanging under the kitchen’s food window: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again then quit. No use being a fool about it."