As sure as Minnesotans are drawn to our state’s lakes and trails, Tim O’Brian is drawn to the Woodbury community. The longtime resident and owner of the Woodbury Green Mill prides himself on deep roots in the community and the atmosphere of his restaurant, a space that has continued to grow along with Woodbury—the city that flows to the beautiful beat of growth and change.
O‘Brian learned the ropes of the restaurant business as a manager for Taco Bell. “I was a manager for Taco Bell for a long time,” he says. “But I always wanted to own my own business.” O’Brian followed this dream all the way to Hastings when he opened his first Green Mill franchise 14 years ago. In 2015, he bought the Green Mill in Woodbury and became an ever bigger part of a community that he so dearly loves.
The Woodbury Green Mill first opened its doors in 1990 as one of the first in the franchise. In 2012, the entire corner where Green Mill sits was part of a major remodel project spanning six months. Before the remodel, O’Brian describes the restaurant as “an old fashioned, dark bar.” But “the look of the restaurant is much cleaner now,” he says. Large windows usher in sunlight and frame the booths and tables in a warm glow. Windows were expanded, the floor was updated and a wall was removed, giving the space a more open feel, O’Brian says.
When O’Brian took the reins as owner in 2015, he also updated the atmosphere of the restaurant. “A lot of our customers say the environment is like Cheers,” he says, laughing. O’Brian works to create a space that feels welcoming and open. “Yeah, we’re a franchise,” he says, “but we’re also about the community.” And O’Brian’s actions speak louder than his words, from joining the local Lions Club to his role as a familiar face around the restaurant.
“If you build it, they will come,” says O’Brian of the new atmosphere and remodeled space. And come they do. “We have a lot of regular customers that have been coming here for years,” he says. Many of these loyal customers have a designated “spot” in the restaurant, a booth or table that they have claimed as their own. Others have designated menu items. “There’s one couple that comes in and orders a slice of pepperoni pizza, a salad and water with lemon—every time,” he says.
The Woodbury community also comes for the delicious eats. The rich smells of rising pizza dough and melting cheese swirl around the restaurant. Freshly chopped veggies, spicy sauces and bubbly drinks further delight the senses. “We’re known for our Chicago-style deep dish pizza,” O’Brian says. Described on the website as “the crust that made Green Mill famous,” this indulgent, Chicago-inspired treat will leave diners full and satisfied. Thick, flakey crust, filled with a decadent layer of cheese and topped with a signature sauce; it’s no wonder it made this string of restaurants famous.
For more classic, American fare, Green Mill has its chicken wings down to a science. “We marinate them in buttermilk for 24 hours,” O’Brian says. “Some places do no-bone chicken, but ours are tenderloin.” O’Brian recommends customers try a basket of wings with Green Mill’s Diablo honey BBQ sauce. “It’s phenomenal,” he says. The fire pasta with shrimp or chicken is a good choice for adventurous souls looking for some spice to their meal: sautéed shrimp, chicken or mushrooms served with linguini noodles and “lots of kick,” he says.
During happy hour, from 3 to 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close seven days a week, the restaurant comes alive with new deals and happy customers. Find house wine for $4.50 a glass, appetizers anywhere from $3.99 to $8.99, $1 off all tap beers and rail drinks for just $3.50. It’s no wonder these hours are dubbed “happy.”
For those who want to enjoy the delights of Green Mill from the comfort of their own home, O’Brian has a happy deal for them as well: “We deliver our whole menu,” he says with pride. “We’re not just pizza, we’re a lot more than that.” On those days when you’re too tired to cook and too tired to drive, the tantalizing treats from Green Mill are just a phone call away. The restaurant is now offering take-and-bake pizza as well, a chance for customers to bring the rich aroma of baking pizza home to their own kitchens. O’Brian says that these take-home treats are also a great choice for birthday parties, and with specials including buy one get one free, they’re an economical choice for feeding a crowd. “Restaurant-quality pizza at your house is just fantastic,” he says.
But we still recommend that the community take a peek at the updated energy of the Woodbury Green Mill. “I would say our restaurant is a casual dining experience,” O’Brian says. “We’re open to everyone, environment-wise—white collar, blue collar, family, hockey team.” (Note that last group—kids are especially welcome at Green Mill, and the menu has plenty of options to delight picky and growing palates.)
O’Brian also hopes that the community will notice how much smoother the restaurant runs these days since he took the lead. “It’s all about trying to be involved in the community and developing more relationships with people,” he says.
At the Woodbury Green Mill, “community” is more than just the nine-letter word. At the people-centered restaurant that O’Brian has created, community also means fundraising for the different people, causes, organizations, churches and sports teams that make up Woodbury. “If you give back to the community, they will give back to you,” O’Brian says. These fundraising initiatives include pancake breakfasts where Green Mill’s special recipe pancakes sizzle on the griddle and syrup flows aplenty. The restaurant partners with Country Inn and Suites to offer space for the breakfasts. “We give 20 percent of our sales from any business they bring in,” O’Brian says. O’Brian hopes the community will continue to reach out for these partnerships, something he believes is the foundation of his business.
Community also comes by way of catering. Bar Mitzvahs, Bat Mitzvahs, birthdays, anniversaries, church festivals and more, made all the more festive by the rich flavors of pizza and American-style foods that Green Mill brings to the party. The restaurant prides itself on catering events of any size and taste. “We custom do our menu to whatever the guest would like,” O’Brian says. “We work to try to fit anyone’s budget.”
The Woodbury Green Mill catered more than 40 weddings in 2017 and O’Brian predicts that they will cater more than 50 in 2018. “A lot of our growth has been in the catering department,” he says. These deep roots in the community help set O’Brian’s restaurant apart from other pizza joints in the area as well as other restaurants in the franchise. “Green Mill gives us flexibility,” O’Brian says. “We’re locally owned and operated and we custom do our restaurants to the community.” A fresh idea that the Woodbury community seems to be eating up as quickly as Green Mill’s delicious pizzas.
Did You Know?
1.Kids eat free: Every Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m., Green Mill invites families to join them for a special deal—kids eat free with the purchase of any adult entree.
2.Merit Vibe L, Merit Vibe C and Merit Radion BBH: For the game lovers among us, Green Mill offers stand-up bar games similar to video games. Video games and pizza—can it get any better?
3.As a brunch craze sweeps the nation, Green Mill is a great place to go for those Sunday brunchers looking for a good deal. Kids age 4 and under eat for free.