Milwaukee institution Karl Ratzsch closed Sunday, the New York Times reports. The 113-year-old German restaurant, which counted Wisconsinites Liberace and Frank Lloyd Wright among its patrons, announced the shutter in a photo posted to Facebook that read:
Thank you for an incredible 113 years serving Milwaukee & the World! Karl Ratzsch has served its last Schnitzel & raised its last Beer. Thank you for the memories! We love you Milwaukee.
Just a year earlier, James Beard Best Chef: Midwest finalist Thomas Hauck bought and renovated Karl Ratzsch, with the goal of updating the century-old restaurant. He got rid of the dining room’s traditional tablecloths, German knickknacks, and year-round Christmas decorations, and added more modern takes on German cuisine to the menu. The changes turned off longtime regulars, and the restaurant never managed to find its footing with a younger crowd.
“We alienated some of the older base, and the younger base didn’t care,” Hauck, who is also chef of c.1880 in Milwuakee, told the Times. “It wasn’t cool enough. We needed to do large numbers. And, I won’t lie to you, we weren’t close to those numbers. We were far away.”
As Milwaukee mourns the loss of Karl Ratzsch, lamenting the missed opportunity to say goodbye to the historic restaurant, OnMilwaukee’s Lori Friedrich reminds readers that in cases like this, the people of Milwaukee aren’t without blame. She writes, “Because in the end, it was our choice to let them go.”
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Karl Ratzsch was one of only a few restaurants representative of the city’s German heritage still remaining. First called Otto Hermann’s Café before being purchased by Hermann’s son-in-law and restaurant employee Karl Ratzsch, the restaurant had occupied an elaborately painted building in downtown Milwaukee since 1929. It stayed in the Ratzsch family until 2003 when the family sold it to employees who then sold it to Hauck. Hauck, who was unsuccessful in finding another buyer, will, in all likelihood, be Karl Ratzsch’s last owner.
• A Revered Milwaukee Restaurant, Karl Ratzsch, Says Goodbye [NYT]
• What can we learn from the closing of Karl Ratzsch? A great deal [OnMilwaukee]
• Less than a year after reopening, historic German restaurant Karl Ratzsch's closes [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]