The Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter restaurant opened 55 years ago in a spot that seemed destined to fail: tucked into the pine woods west of Stillwater, far from the crowds, serving up authentic German helpings of schnitzel and spaetzle, topped off with a frothy mug of dark beer.
But it thrived,drawing legions of fans to its idyllic spot for sit-down meals and Oktoberfests, weddings and nights with the regulars, all set to the soundtrack of a yodeling accordion player.
To the dismay of its loyal diners, the restaurant has been put up for sale by longtime owner Kim Quade, who is retiring.
“It’s been my life and blood. It’s all I’ve ever known,” said Quade. “It’s very, very bittersweet.”
The restaurant is coming off its best year, said Quade, and she and her husband plan to stick around to help a new owner take over.
The announcement was met by an outpouring of love from patrons.
“I got sad faced because that was always my favorite Oktoberfest,” said Lorae Stahley, of St. Paul. She and her husband, Daniel, married at the restaurant in 2014, holding the ceremony under the tall pines. Stahley said she’s hopeful that a local brewery might step in and keep the traditions flowing.
Accordion player Joey Johnson said he’ll never forget his first Gasthaus gig. Soon after, the restaurant’s manager took him aside and said, “Welcome, Joey, you’ll be here the rest of your life,” said Johnson, laughing. The employees tend to stick around, and people feel like one big family, he said.
“This was like home, and so every week you’d come in and I could tell you right now who would be sitting at the bar on Friday night. It was ‘Cheers.’ It really was,” said Johnson. He still planned to play Friday, cranking out everything from the “Beer Barrel Polka” to “Edelweiss” and country classics to Neil Diamond.
“Nothing compares to how happy I feel when I’m playing there,” he said.
The restaurant was created by Karl and Elizabeth Schoene in 1966, a few years after they immigrated from Bavaria. It was their son, Carl, who married Kim and took over the restaurant in 1986. His death in 2003 left Kim running the restaurant on her own. “I wouldn’t trade it for all the people I’ve met and the memories,” said Kim, who later remarried.
She hopes to sell to someone who wants to keep the Gasthaus traditions alive. Some of the recipes still used today are from Elizabeth. The Hammerschlagen game that patrons play outside was invented by Karl.
“It’s ready for somebody younger to step in and have a go at it and make a great living and make a lot of people happy,” she said.
Quade plans to serve up the last bratwurst Dec. 19. The restaurant will host a Christmas market craft fair, the Christkindlmarkt, from noon to 4 p.m. Dec. 4.
The restaurant is asking people to make reservations, and Quade added a note on the restaurant’s Facebook page that people should be patient when they call.
“The phone has not stopped ringing!” she wrote.