Biz Buzz: Old Vienna Restaurant shuts down

German eatery in Shell Beach that was open for 40 years falls victim to hard times

January 13, 2010 

Shell Beach’s Old Vienna Restaurant, famous for its sausage, schnitzel and oom-pah-pahs for nearly 40 years, closed its doors Wednesday.

The German restaurant was not making enough money to support itself, pay taxes and service a loan the family used to expand the restaurant, said Mike Mosier, who owns the restaurant with his siblings, Zoa Musick, Heidi Mitchell and Seppi Reithofer. Three generations of Reithofers had owned and operated the restaurant since 1972.

“It’s been bad luck,” Mosier said. “We did not want to close, but that’s what it’s come to.”

Old Vienna’s traditional fall Oktoberfest celebrations, where patrons dined, drank and sang along to polka music in the restaurant’s beer garden, was like a retailer’s Christmas holiday season. It accounted for the highest sales of the year and usually helped the restaurant get through the slower spring months, according to family members.

This time, however, “We haven’t been able to pay ourselves for the last three and a half months,” Mosier said.

There were no layoffs with the closure, as five family members have been running the restaurant since Oktoberfest. For that six-week celebration, the family increased the work force to 17 people by hiring temporary employees whose jobs concluded once Oktoberfest was done.

The family attempted to sell the restaurant property, located at 1527 Shell Beach Road, for $1.95 million this fall, with the idea of keeping the business running, but found no buyers, Mosier said. He said the lender will foreclose soon on the property, consisting of the restaurant, the beer garden and a parking lot.

Hans Reithofer, son of Old Vienna’s founders Willi and Anna Reithofer and uncle to the current owners, said he was “pretty bummed out” about the restaurant’s demise. Hans Reithofer remembered working hard with his parents six days a week, with no vacation, for the first 10 years it was open. But even after 30 years of serving wiener schnitzel, the restaurant had an image problem it could not overcome, he said: People did not know what to expect from a restaurant that served Bavarian cuisine.

“They’d know ahead of time what kind of meal they’d get in an Italian or Mexican restaurant. I think they were kind of scared of German food,” Hans Reithofer said.

Still, he said the downturn in the economy had more to do with the closure than anything else.

“It put the nail in the coffin,” he said.

— Melanie Cleveland

French gets new board members

French Hospital Medical Center recently appointed three community leaders to its Community Governing Board:

• Patricia Gomez, a local attorney who has lived in San Luis Obispo for more than two decades, will bring perspectives on human services and health-related challenges facing the community.

• Ben Kulick, an entrepreneur and San Luis Obispo native, has a background in physics, engineering and finance.

• Jim Lokey, former president and CEO of Mid-State Bank & Trust and most recently president of community banking for Rabobank, has been active as a community volunteer for several local and state organizations, including director and past president of the Foundation for the Performing Arts and director and past president of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project.

— AnnMarie Cornejo

• • •

The Religious Communities Investment Fund, an Oakland-based collaboration of Catholic Religious Congregations, increased its investment in the San Luis Obispo County Housing Trust Fund to $150,000 from $25,000. The investment will be used to provide financing for affordable housing projects.

The Housing Trust Fund is a nonprofit corporation that was created to increase the supply of affordable housing throughout San Luis Obispo County. The nonprofit provides financing and technical assistance to help private developers, nonprofit agencies and local governments produce and preserve homes that working families, seniors on fixed incomes and persons with disabilities can afford to rent or buy.

For more details, visit www.slochtf.org.

— AnnMarie Cornejo

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