Our Life Story (Lebenslaufe)

The Tradition

For over 95 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 has something for everyone, as it serves both German and American food. Sauerbraten is the house specialty; a marinated roast beef with a sour cream gravy. Rouladen is hand cut, round of beef rolled and stuffed with bacon, onions, pickles, mustard, and traditional German spices, all baked in a flavorful tomato beef sauce. The Ziguener Steak is a top sirloin topped with onions, mushrooms, and green peppers. Bratwurst, Knackwurst, and Mettwurst are traditional sausages served. Weiner Schnitzel is a breaded pork cutlet, a tradition in Hessen that is delicious with a mushroom or Jager sauce or ala-holstein. Prime rib, steaks, chops, fresh seafood, and chicken dishes, including famous Sunday-only Fried and Roasted Chicken are favorites. Side dishes include treasures like homemade German potato salad, spatzen, which are German noodles, German potato pancakes, cucumber salad, red cabbage, and sauerkraut. German desserts such as Black Forest torte, apple strudel and homemade delicious desserts, like bread pudding complement the meals.

Metzger’s also serves genuine German beer both in the bottle and on draft where you can get a clay mug (stein) or a boot full. The wine list offers regional delicacies including a variety of Rieslings and select red wine. The fully stocked bar includes special liquor such as German Steinhager Gin and Apfel Schnapps. 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. Wilhelm 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 had 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 and soon had attained the title “Master Baker.” He married the daughter of Jacob and Frederika (Steck) Lamparter, Marie, who had grown up on a small farm in Wilhelmsdorf right down the road from the Metzger home. A 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 and because Wilhelm’s brother Fritz, inherited the family bakery, Wilhelm, Marie, and Christian sought passage to the United States.

To get passage to the United States, they needed sponsorship and they found it from 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. The family was finally permitted to join Wilhelm in Ann Arbor 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 owners of a local restaurant at 122 West Washington, the Flautz family, decided to return to their native Germany, they rented their location to the Metzger family and Christian Kuhn.

Wilhelm’s two brothers, Fritz and Gottfried, also 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” at 122 West Washington, 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 from Germany and the Metzger family had to find a new location. The restaurant 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.

Young Walter Metzger and brother Hans grew up in the family restaurant and worked there even at a young age. Walter recalled 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 had 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 wall of the restaurant today along with an apology letter from the person starting the rumors.

Metzger's Staff - Washington Street Location 1936

Metzger’s Staff – Washington Street Location 1936

A Second Generation

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 pastor, married them in 1950 in the Ebinger village of Erbstetten Germany. Walter and Ruth 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 Christian’s shares. Ruth and Walter devoted their lives to running the restaurant according to traditionally high standards, and while raising their children. In addition to tending a young family, Ruth worked at the restaurant between 1975 and 1991.


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.” said Walter Metzger.


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. Heidi waited on tables until she graduated from college. Of the four 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 (was Harry’s Army Surplus) 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.

John worked hard to keep the restaurant going and did a wonderful job. Hard times returned to the family restaurant however, when the parking garage across the street closed for nearly three years. Without convenient parking the business choked.

In May 1999 Metzger’s German Restaurant closed its doors on East Washington. It was a very sad time and the family auctioned some of the restaurant’s decorative antique pieces, as they thought it would never re-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.

In 2000, John and his sister Heidi began to plan Metzger’s return to the Ann Arbor restaurant scene. With urging from former customers, friends, and others, John wanted to re-open the restaurant.

Heidi had little formal involvement with the restaurant at the time but took a leave of absence from her work at the Environmental Institute of Michigan and helped John reopen. Heidi assisted in developing the plans, processes and managing the project, but it was John’s vision, good business sense, and passion for keeping the tradition of Metzger’s German restaurant alive, that made the re-opening a success. Upon opening, John and Heidi had a new partner, Joe Neely. Many employees returned and 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 opened in June 2001 with great success. Past and new customers gathered and enjoyed the food and tranditional ambiance. Much of the saved decorations adorned the new restaurant and customers who bought items at the auction in 1999 returned them – what a delight! 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. Another setback, but Metzger’s survived due to its loyal customers.

Walter and Ruth Metzger still came in frequently to dine and were so proud of John, 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 the next generations and the exceptional staff.

The Fourth Generation and Ready for the Fifth Generation

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, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and a legacy of German warmth and hospitality. Wilhelm Metzger passed away in 1960. Marie Metzger died peacefully in her sleep, two days after her 77th birthday, in 1970. Ruth and Walter frequented the restaurant often after their retirement enjoying the success of the new location. Ruth passed away in 2010 and then Walter Metzger passed away in 2014.

The Metzger family has grown larger, and most are still in the local area. Fred (Laurie), Susan (Ed), John and Heidi’s (Jim’s) children all worked at the restaurant while growing up. And now the fifth generation, although very young, are being introduced to the restaurant. John’s grandchildren Elias and Daniel help while in town and Jorge and Nico can be seen stocking candy and following John around and handing out menus.

Heidi, who had a hand in the back-office since the new location opened, recently “retired” from her job at Maxar and is back working at the restaurant, as needed. Heidi and her husband Jim, have one son, Mitchell.

Ryan Dunkelberger (fourth generation), Susan and Ed’s son is now the head chef and kitchen manager and will lead the next generation of Metzger’s. 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 homemade sausages, occasionally smokes meat for specials, and creates the best tasting traditional German food for miles around! Ryan and his wife Kari have one child, Vera, who is already showing interest in food and cooking!


Although the exterior of Metzger’s German Restaurant has changed, the interior maintains the atmosphere of old Germany. Cuckoo clocks and massive beer 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. In addition to German city crests that adorn the perimeter, the walls are full of timeworn photographs of the people and history of the restaurant.

The success Metzger’s can be contributed not only to John and Ryan’s hard work but the tremendous help from extended family and staff. Two employees, Betsey and Charlie have been with Metzger’s for over 40 years. Betsey is currently the operations manager and Charlie is a cook/manager. Amy has been with Metzger’s for over 25 years and is a dining room manager. Stephanie, a manager and host, follows in the footsteps of her parents, Doug (former partner) and Sue. Longtime staff and their children and now even their grandchildren work at Metzger’s making Metzger’s a true family atmosphere.

John, Heidi, Ryan and the Metzger family are very proud to have had the business in Ann Arbor. They thank the community and loyal regulars for the support given over all these years. There were hard times upon the restaurant and family again with the COVID-19 pandemic, but loyal customers and friends rallied to make the curbside and take-out (and groceries) business going enough to keep the doors open. THANK YOU!

For four generations and nearly 95 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.

Gut Trinken Und Essen ‘Tu Nicht Vergessen. Prost!

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!


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