Our Life Story (Lebenslaufe)

The Tradition

For almost 90 years, Metzger’s German Restaurant has been an iconic part of the Ann Arbor cultural scene and a reminder of the contributions of Ann Arbor’s early German immigrants. For all those years, despite political and economic hardships, the Metzger family has served rich, tasty, and traditional German cuisine. Residents of all communities flocked here for excellent food and European ambience. Today, having spanned four generations of Metzger’s, the restaurant thrives, and meets the highest standards of traditional German food.

Since 1928, Metzger’s German Restaurant has served more than seven million guests.

Metzger's German Restaurant Gut Trinken und Essen

Metzger’s German Restaurant Gut Trinken und Essen

The Food

Metzger’s Restaurant has something for everyone, as it serves both German and American food. Sauerbraten is the house specialty, marinated roast beef with a sour cream wine sauce. Rouladen is hand cut, round of beef rolled and stuffed with bacon, onions, pickles, mustarded, and traditional German spices, all baked in a flavorful tomato beef sauce. Our Ziguener Steak is a top sirloin topped with onions, mushrooms, and green peppers. Bratwurst and Knackwurst are served as well as our Mettwurst sausage, which is a mildly spicy sausage. Weiner Schnitzel is a breaded pork cutlet, a tradition in Hessen. Prime rib, steaks, chops, fresh seafood and American chicken dishes, including our famous Fried and Roasted Chicken are also served. Side dishes include alimentary treasures like homemade German potato salad, spatzen, which are German noodles, German potato pancakes, and Sauerkraut. German desserts such as Black Forest torte, apple strudel and our homemade delicious bread pudding compliment hearty meat.

Metzger’s German Restaurant also serves genuine German beers both in the bottle and on draft. The award winning wine list offers regional delicacies including a variety of Rieslings, highly aromatic Gewürtzraminer. Those who dine at Metzger’s become instant connoisseurs of German hospitality.

page3image41552Humble Beginnings

Wilhelm Metzger was born in 1894 to Johannes, a baker, and Frederike Metzger, in the town of Wilhelmsdorf, Württemberg, Germany. He joined the German army in 1914, and was soon after sent to the front in France, where he was wounded. When he was well enough to return to duty he was sent to fight in the Alps as a ski trooper, where he served under the Company Commander Irwin Rommel. Walter Metzger still has his father’s ‘passbook” detailing all of his movements while in the service. Wilhelm was discharged from the army in 1918 and awarded the Iron Cross. Following the footsteps of his father, Wilhelm went to Stuttgart to apprentice as a baker soon had attained the title “Master Baker.” He married the daughter of Jacob and Frederika (Steck) Lamparter, Maria, who had grown up on a small farm, which she worked with her mother. Meanwhile, their future partner, Christian Kuhn was also born in Wilhelmsdorf. Christian served in the German army, was captured by the Canadian forces, and released after the war. As it became harder to make a living in the economic climate of Germany, Wilhelm, Marie, and Christian sought passage to the United States.

They were sponsored by Sam Heusel, a German baker who had established himself in Ann Arbor. Sam Heusel was the grandfather of popular radio personality, Ted Heusel who passed away in 2007. Because of immigration quotas, Wilhelm could not bring Marie and their young son Hans, who was born in 1922, to the United States with him in 1923. They were finally permitted to join him fifteen months later. Together the small family ran the Liberty Street boarding house, while Wilhelm also worked at Sam Heusel’s “Home Bakery.”
After working for Sam Heusel, Wilhelm worked as a baker for the University of Michigan for one year, where friend and future University of Michigan Football Coach Bennie Oosterbaan was also working, washing pots and pans.

Marie cooked and cleaned for the family as well as six boarders. Their second child Walter, was born in 1926. When the Flautz family, owner of a local restaurant at 122 West Washington decided to return to their native Germany, they rented their location to the Metzger family and Christian Kuhn. At the same time that Wilhelm and Marie came to the United States, two of Wilhelm’s brothers, Fritz and Gottfried, emigrated to the United States. Fritz later bought the Old German from it’s original owner, Gottlob Schumacher, who retired in 1946. Gottfried owned the Deluxe Bakery on East Washington, and would supply bread and baked goods to both the Old German and the Metzger’s German Restaurant for many years.

MetzgersWashintonOpaThe Restaurant

“The German American Restaurant” opened on December 8, 1928. They served breakfast, lunch, and dinner to an appreciative American clientele, and business was good. Prohibition was in full swing at the time and alcohol was not permitted in any form. One day, the cider that the Metzger’s served was found to have fermented, and the family was severely reprimanded. Wilhelm was placed on probation for five years. And an enormous fine (in those days) of $100 was applied. Furthermore, a monthly fine was demanded for a total of sixty months. Despite this financial setback, business continued to thrive, until the nation entered the depression of the 1930’s starting with the Stock Market Crash in 1929. No one had any money to spend frivolously, and the family worked long hours to keep its doors open. When Prohibition was repealed, the restaurant was one of the first in Ann Arbor to get a license to serve beer and wine, and things continued to improve.

Among the employees, working for the Metzger’s at the time was Herman Weber, later to be the founder of Weber’s Restaurant in Ann Arbor. Weber worked in the kitchen of the restaurant from 1934 until 1936 and sold chickens to the restaurant from his family farm. He even taught Walter Metzger to drive a car. In those days, the driving age was only fourteen.

Another setback was to arise in 1936, however, when the Flautz family returned to Germany. The restaurant then relocated to 203 East Washington and took on a new, shorter name, that of Metzger’s German Restaurant. This new location was ideal, but for one detail: its front door was within five hundred feet of a church, and the restaurant intended to serve alcohol. In those days, the minimum distance between the front door of an alcohol-serving establishment and the door of a church was 500 feet. After a drawn out legal battle, the Metzger’s came up with a clever idea – to buy the alley behind the restaurant, and make that the main entrance, and neatly sidestep the law. Business improved in 1937, and the family was for the first time able to close Sunday afternoons. By 1938, they could afford to close for the entire day.

Metzger's Staff - Washington Street Location 1936

Metzger’s Staff – Washington Street Location 1936

A Second Generation

Young Walter Metzger grew up in the family restaurant. He worked in the restaurant washing dishes “ for as long as I remember.” He recalls well the time in the early stages of World War II, before the U.S. was involved, when sentiment toward families of German origin soured. Rumors began to circulate that the Metzger’s German Restaurant was a front for anti-American activities and espionage, and the family, although they had long since become citizens, harbored dark intentions against the country. “People were not too pleasant to us. There was envy because my parents has a business, I think.” In 1940, when talk was escalating, a well-known reporter named Willis Player attempted to clear the Metzger name in the Ann Arbor News. Almost immediately, the gossip quieted. A copy of the article and the letter which Wilhelm wrote in defense can be found on the east wall of the restaurant today.

After high school Graduation, Walter Metzger enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and served on the U.S.S. Sentry mine sweeper as a Signalman for two years, between 1944 and 1946. After his service, he returned to the States to take up the family business, In 1949, he met Ruth Ebinger in Wilhelmsdorf while on a visit to see his Grandfather. Ruth’s father, a preacher, married them in 1950 in Erbstetten Germany. They returned to live in the United States soon after. When Christian Kuhn and Wilhelm Metzger decided to retire in 1959, Walter bought his father’s shares and Christian’s nephew Fritz Kienzel bought his shares. Ruth and Walter devoted their lives to running the restaurant according to traditionally high standards, and raising their children. In addition to tending a young family, Ruth worked at the restaurant between 1975 and 1991.
When the founders of what was to be a multi-generational business passed away, they left behind more than their restaurant. They left behind a growing family of devoted children and grandchildren, and a legacy of German warmth and hospitality. They will be remembered by all who knew them and everyone who dines at Metzger’s German Restaurant. Wilhelm Metzger passed away in 1960. Christian Kuhn died in 1969. After a long fruitful life, Marie Metzger died peacefully in her sleep, two days after her 77th birthday, in 1970.

larry1966Past Employees

Metzger’s was/is famous for long-time employees. Milly Docktor, Maria Wagner, and Annieliese Tramontin together combined for over one hundred years of service to Metzger’s and our customers from the 1950-1990s. “Loyal employees like these women and hundreds of others that make Metzger’s a dining tradition in Ann Arbor for so many years.” Walter Metzger.

 

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Third Generationoutsideatnight1999

Walter and Ruth had four children. Fred, Susan, John and Heidi. Each of the children worked at the restaurant in their childhoods, bringing dark German bread to tables, washing dishes, and seating patrons. Of the children, John Metzger showed the most enthusiasm for taking over his parents’ restaurant. After attending the University of Michigan, John formally linked himself to Metzger’s restaurant by forming a corporation with his father in 1975, after Walter had bought out his partner’s share. In 1984, Walter and John bought the space next door to their restaurant with ideas of expansion in mind. When Walter was ready to retire in 1985, he sold his interest to John. John renovated the restaurant extensively, and in 1991 received the Ann Arbor Historic Preservation Award for Rehabilitating 201 East Washington. The restaurant was recognized as a historical landmark, and an asset to the City of Ann Arbor. Trouble returned to the family restaurant however, when the parking garage across the street closed for nearly three years. Customers were denied convenient access to the restaurant. It chocked business. In May 1999 Metzger’s German Restaurant closed its doors. “ It was a sad time,” says Ruth Metzger. The family auctioned many of the restaurant’s decorative antique pieces. Heidi Metzger, now herself a mother, recalls the discoursing time. “We never thought we would reopen.”

However, in 2000, John and his business minded Sister Heidi began to plan Metzger’s return to the Ann Arbor restaurant scene. Upon opening, John and Heidi had a new partner Joe Neely. His dedication and hard work helped Metzger’s start up and thrive again! Joe is no longer a partner as of 2004, but he remains a true friend. The Ann Arbor community rallied around the reopening, sending scores of encouraging e – mails and letters praising the family’s decision to open.

The New Restaurant on Zeeb Road

Our beautiful Metzger's Restaurant at Christmas. This was taken at our 85th Anniversary party evening.

Our beautiful Metzger’s Restaurant at Christmas. This was taken at our 85th Anniversary party evening.

John had an idea in 2000. With urging from former customers, friends, and others, he wanted to re-open the restaurant. At the time, John’s sister, Heidi Metzger worked in Ann Arbor and had little formal involvement in her family’s restaurant. Yet when her son Mitchell, was six, she decided to take a leave of absence to spend more time with him. When her brother John, asked for her help in designing a strategy for reopening the family restaurant, she was reluctant but accepted and looking back it was one of the most rewarding experiences of her career. “ Heidi assisted in developing the startup plan, helped select and manage the contractors, hiring staff, and getting the place built, for that I am very grateful” John Metzger.

The new restaurant opened in June 2001 with great success. Then in September 2001, Metzger’s business was affected by the 911 attacks, as were many local and businesses in the country. People were just not going out to dinner as much – they were very reserved and cautious. Then on top of that, that Fall, the Zeeb Road overpass was closed for a total re-build. But Metzger’s survived due to it’s loyal customers.

The success of the new location can be contributed not only to John’s hard work but the tremendous help from new and former staff and of course his loving family. Betsey Hartwell has been with Metzger’s for over 36 years is currently the operations manager. Long-time employee Charlie Clayton, night kitchen manager for returned to provide good food and atmosphere to dedicated customers and is now approaching his 30th year with us. Amy Amy returned and has been with Metzger’s for over 20 years and is now the dining room manager. Charlie Moore, who worked at the Old German for fifteen years has since retired, but served as a lead cook prepared our wonderful spatzen and famous German potato salad.

After re-opening on Zeeb Road, Walter and Ruth Metzger still came in frequently to dine and were so proud of John, Ryan, Heidi, and the staff with the new restaurant. Walter’s favorite foods were of course the German dishes, but he also enjoyed the fresh seafood, steaks, and the chicken entrées. Ruth Metzger passed away in 2010. After her passing, Walter frequented the restaurant more, sharing stories, making new friends, and continuing the tradition of a true family business. Walter passed away in 2014 but restaurant lives on in John, Ryan, and the exceptional staff.

Although the exterior of Metzger’s German Restaurant has changed, the interior maintains the atmosphere of old Germany. Cuckoo clocks and massive bier steins surround patrons. Traditional German carvings and antiques line ornate shelves on the walls. Most of the items were acquired by members of the Metzger’s family, while others were gifts from loyal customers. Plaques of German city crests adorn the perimeter. Even the walls bear history. There you can see timeworn pictures of Wilhelm, Marie and Christian, the previous locations, and the employees who served there.

2013 Staff at Metzger's. Getting ready for the 85th Anniversary celebration. 85% off dinner!

2013 Staff at Metzger’s. Getting ready for the 85th Anniversary celebration. 85% off dinner!

For four generations and almost 90 years, the Metzger family has kept the tradition alive, serving German food as well as American fare to Ann Arbor customers. When you dine at Metzger’s, you are participating in a piece of Ann Arbor History.

“ We are very proud to have had our business for almost 90 years in Ann Arbor, and we thank the community for the support that it has given us over all these years,” John Metzger.

Fourth Generation and Now Fifth (!) Generation

Owner, John Metzger and nephew Ryan, Heidi Metzger, and Walter Metzger, at our 85th Anniversary celebration.

Owner, John Metzger and nephew Ryan, Heidi Metzger, and Walter Metzger, at our 85th Anniversary celebration.

The Metzger family has grown larger. Fred Metzger (third generation) is a retired geologist in Ann Arbor, and dines here with his wife Laurie, two children Adam and Elise who worked at the restaurant in high school. Fred and Laurie have two grandchildren. Susan and her husband Edward Dunkelberger, are retired elementary education schoolteachers, and have two children, Ryan and Lindsay. Ed and Susie are seen almost every Sunday to visit with their son Ryan, head chef. Ed and Susie have three grandchildren. Heidi, who occasionally still helps out with the back-office and the web site, and her husband, Jim have one son, Mitchell. John’s children, William and Kristen also worked at the restaurant while in high school and while undergraduate students at the University of Michigan. John has three grandchildren.

Ryan Dunkelberger (fourth generation) is currently the Head Chef and kitchen manager. Ryan attended Washtenaw Community College for Culinary Arts. Ryan’s hard work ethic, his food quality and presentation expectations of the staff and his creative daily specials have really set the bar high for outstanding entrees. Ryan creates and makes our homemade sausages smokes our meat for specials, and creates the best tasting traditional German food for miles around! Ryan and his wife Kari are expecting their first child!

Come and enjoy hour food and our history.

Visit an Ann Arbor Tradition!