One of the most iconic sights in the Twin Cities, Murray’s Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis has welcomed generations of diners with its bright neon sign and electric blue façade. While the exterior hasn’t changed, the landmark steakhouse has undergone many changes in its storied history, from interior renovations to menu innovations. With the third generation of Murrays at the helm, the restaurant has managed to both embrace the changing dining landscape and remain, as Garrison Keillor put it in Time magazine, “a kingdom of elegance.”
Founded in 1946 by Art and Marie Murray, Murray’s Restaurant was an instant success, with the who’s who of Minnesota politics, entertainment and business brokering deals over three-martini lunches and countless couples dancing the night away or lingering over dinner in corner booths.
In 1951, author and steak aficionado Maurice Dreicer bestowed his prestigious Silver Butter Knife Award on Murray’s 28-ounce strip sirloin.
“We took that and chose to make it part of our brand,” says Tim Murray, Art’s grandson and Murray’s president and general manager for 33 years. Murray’s has been the “Home of the Silver Butter Knife Steak” ever since.
Today, 85 percent of Murray’s food sales are steak, but the menu also includes a variety of rotating seafood options and smaller plates, including a recently added steak flight for two, which includes shareable portions of Murray’s ribeye, tenderloin and New York strip sirloin. “We keep the signatures, but add specials and change the menu seasonally,” says in-house butcher and sous chef Boyd Freeman, who started at Murray’s in 1977.
Executive chef Rick Van Doeren keeps the menu fresh, sourcing ingredients locally and making everything from scratch, including the famous garlic toast, still made from Marie Murray’s original recipe in the restaurant’s in-house bakery.
“We make about 3,000 pieces of garlic toast a day,” says Van Doeren. In addition to being served in the restaurant, first-class passengers on Sun Country flights receive warm Murray’s garlic toast, thanks to an executive at the airline who loved the toast so much he approached Tim Murray with the idea.
In 2012, the building—built in the 1880s and one of the oldest in the city—underwent its first major redesign since Art and Marie’s son, Pat Murray, renovated it in 1984. “Dad allowed us to make the decisions for the latest remodel, knowing that we’d be the ones running it,” says Jill Murray, who, along with siblings Tim and James Murray, make up the current management team. The redesign saw the addition of two private dining spaces, a classic horseshoe bar and updated décor that exudes modern elegance.
Though the restaurant has continued to thrive, there are challenges to keeping a family business going for the better part of a century. Rising costs, increased competition and changing tastes are tough to navigate for any restaurant, but Murray’s also must balance tradition with trends.
“We’re not stuck in our ways; we’re always looking for different things to do,” says Tim. The restaurant regularly hosts wine dinners and holds contests for its bartenders to come up with original craft cocktails to add to the expanded happy hour menu. “We want people to put us at the top of their list when dining out,” Tim says.
Murray’s continues to be a place where multiple generations gather to “create lasting memories,” Jill says. “We get to hear stories of people coming here with their grandparents, and now they’re grown-ups with kids of their own. It’s a joy to see.”
“Tim and I travel a lot, and we run in to people who know the restaurant,” says Tim’s wife Mary Murray. “We went to Mexico [a couple of years ago] and a couple asked us if we live in Minnesota and if Murray’s is still around.”
While it’s too soon to know if a fourth generation of Murrays will continue the restaurant’s legacy, Tim notes that “any future generation will have to share the passion and high standards” that have made Murray’s so beloved for so long.
In the meantime, everyone at Murray’s is looking forward to the restaurant’s upcoming 75th anniversary, a chance to celebrate with the customers and employees that have become like family over the years. “It’s hard to duplicate how much a family cares about their business,” Jill says, but with veteran employees like Freeman and his wife, Marcia, a waitress at Murray’s for the last 45 years, that task is easy. “They are family; they care just as much as we do.”