Wienerstube celebrates 45 years, but this could be the last
The venerable breakfast institution that, under the direction of its newest steward, Harald Neuweg, also serves an authentic Austrian lunch and dinner, is celebrating 45 years of business in Aspen tonight (Wednesday, Sept. 1).
Gerhard Mayritsch, who along with the late Helmut Schloffer founded the Wienerstube in 1965, will be on hand for the lederhosen-infused festivities. So will a live band and other former staff. The public is encouraged to attend the party, scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m., featuring an all-you-can-eat buffet.
But with restaurant revenues low and Aspen rents high, the Wienerstube's future is in doubt. Add in Aspen City Council's recent approval of the Aspen Art Museum's relocation to Hyman Avenue and Spring Street — the current home of the Wienerstube — and the eatery may be as good as gone.
“We have no idea what's going to happen,” Neuweg says. “Our contract is finished on the 31st of March. The idea is to move but rents are too high. I have not found a proper location yet and we didn't make the money we expected the last two years so I don't think we'll stay. We're weighing our options.”
As he explains that the Wienerstube could extend its lease another year or two depending on what happens with opposition to the Aspen Art Museum's plan (critics of the relocation are threatening a lawsuit), patrons wish Neuweg luck and say they hope the restaurant is able to somehow stick around.
Despite the impending doom, no one is crying in their wienerschnitzel.
“We're going to celebrate (tonight) like we'll never close,” Neuweg says. “And we're definitely going to have one helluva winter season — that's for sure. We're going to have a guest bartender one night every month this season where someone from the community comes in and we'll give 10 percent to charity.”
Neuweg, who became a managing partner at the Wienerstube in July 2008 before purchasing it two months later, likes to say that he doesn't own the restaurant “the people of Aspen do.” Some of the same faces — including ski industry icon Klaus Obermeyer — are here virtually every morning.
The Wienerstube's first couple of decades were spent on Cooper Avenue. It then moved to its current location at 633 E. Hyman Ave., where it replaced the old U.S. post office. Mayritsch sold the restaurant to Horst Grilc in 2000. Two years later, Kevin Wilson and Laura Wren took over. Neuweg, who owns Fritz & Franz Bierhaus and the Mozart Stube in Coral Gables, Fla., was out here vacationing when the Wienerstube grabbed his attention. He soon bought the place, tweaked the menu and added dinners.
With the Wienerstube's choice patio dining and the fun-loving Neuweg at the helm, it seemed logical that the nighttime would be the right time to ramp up business. But instead of doing 50 to 100 dinners like Neuweg anticipated, the restaurant has been averaging 20 or 30 dinners a night. Even breakfast, where the Wienerstube long ago made its name, has been subjected to increased competition around town.
“It's been tough,” Neuweg acknowledges.
Of course it hasn't been all bad. The first Wednesday of the month at the Wienerstube is community table night featuring live music from Those Austrian Guys and a vibrant and social atmosphere. Neuweg, who helped launch festivals in Florida, is also the mastermind behind Aspen's Oktoberfest. The second annual Oktoberfest will be held this year from Sept. 24-26 — a three-day, beer-soaked food and music extravaganza in the parking lot next to the Wienerstube that pays homage to the original Oktoberfest held in Munich in 1810. Yes, there will be a bratwurst-eating contest. Yodeling too.
If the Wienerstube is forced to shut down after the ski season, Neuweg says he may begin to spend most of his time in Florida. He is thinking about opening up a bierhaus in Fort Lauderdale where rent is around $14 a square foot, as opposed to the $50 to $100 a square foot he says he would pay in Aspen.
But he wouldn't stop coming here. In fact, if the Wienerstube is finished, he hopes Oktoberfest lives on.
“Oktoberfest doesn't necessarily need the Wienerstube. We can maybe get that event on the street, at the ice rink or gondola plaza like last weekend's Big Aspen BBQ Block Party. That was a great event. I like this town,” Neuweg said. “I like it here and there are opportunities, but right now with the economy the way it is, it is difficult to do something.”
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