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New owner keeps fish stand going, renovates tavern

If ever there was a guy who should take over a restaurant in his hometown, it’s Terry Davinroy.

Three years ago, Terry, born and raised in Millstadt, came home, resettled in the house he was raised in with his six siblings and in June bought Ott’s Tavern, pretty much an institution in town (and around the area) for more than 40 years. He opened in July.

He teaches at Lindenwood University in Belleville (media law, ethics, health-care finance, economics and more) and spends his spare time working on reopening the tavern. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, he sells fish plates, sandwiches and sides. Jumbo shrimp are available on Saturdays. To quench your thirst, he’s got beer, hard lemonade and soda.

“I’ve been coming here for years,” said Mike Sykes, of south St. Louis. He was eating a fish sandwich Sunday afternoon with his girlfriend. “It’s a quick trip and it’s the best stuff around.”

So, why did Terry buy the place?

“I’m nuts,” he said, laughing. His background includes a master’s degree in business, experience running a convenience store/deli and two years of managing a restaurant in Wisconsin.

But some of his motivation was nostalgia. He hated to see Ott’s Tavern (he’ll keep the name) close in February.

“As a kid, we came here all the time,” he explained, saying that when he was a kid, nobody in parents Bill and Kay Davinroy’s house bothered to refill the ice trays, so one of them would walk down the block to the tavern and buy a bag of ice.

Right now, Terry, 54, is doing business out of the smaller building behind the tavern, with renovations to the tavern itself moving forward in steps. By mid-November, he plans to open the bar area of the tavern, including wheelchair access and two new bathrooms.

He has already added air conditioning and heat to the fish stand’s indoor dining area, which seats 50. He painted the interior and added new flooring. Outside behind the stand is a big new asphalt parking lot with a walkway to the ordering area, so anyone with a disability or using a wheelchair easily can reach the fish stand. There’s walk-up and waitress service with patio seating at picnic tables.

He apologizes upfront about people having to wait for their orders, especially on Friday nights. There’s typically a 20-minute wait on a Saturday or Sunday for food, but Fridays can be much longer.

“I’ve got as many people as I can fit in the kitchen working,” he said, adding that on a recent weekend he had four sisters, a brother and three brothers-in-law helping out.

“I’m so blessed to have my family here to help me,” he said.

The stand will remain open year-round, offering fish plates (Iceland cod cut-ups, fries and homemade slaw, $8.45), fish sandwich ($4.95) and on Saturdays, a menu addition of a jumbo breaded shrimp plate ($9.45; five extra pieces for $6.45).

A pound of fish is $12.95, with an order of slaw $2 and fries $2.50. Add “the works” for 50 cents to your sandwich and you get slaw — “sweet and sour with a touch of mayo” — and Terry’s special sauce, which combines barbecue sauce, horseradish and other secret ingredients. You can buy 6 ounces of the sauce for a dollar.

Millstadt Fish Stand and Ott’s Tavern

What: Fish stand open year-round; accepts cash only; renovation underway on the tavern.

Where: 20 E. Washington St., Millstadt

When: 2 to 11 p.m. Friday; to 10 p.m. Saturday; and to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Information: 618-476-3531