Monroe: The Berghoff Adapts with Changing Times

Berghoff Restaurant Photo

Fresh cut meat at the Berghoff Cafe's sandwich counter,
which draws a crowd a lunch hour. (Photo by Bartosz Brzezinski)

Monroe Stop IconBy Alex Cyhaniuk and Bartosz Brzezinski
The Red Line Project
Posted: Thursday, June 2, 2011

The smell of wiener schnitzel lingers in the air. At the café and restaurant, wood paneled walls encircle tables seated with office workers and tourists. Across from the bar, hangs the first liquor license in Chicago.

The glass protecting it reflects the light of a computer screen; a sign that change can occur even in 112-year-old establishments.

Second only to Schaller’s Pump, The Berghoff is the oldest family-owned restaurant in Chicago, and one of the few within the city serving authentic German cuisine.

Following a brief closure in 2006, The Berghoff was reopened in 2007 and renamed the Berghoff Catering & Restaurant Group by fourth generation owner Carlyn Berghoff.

“When my mother and father wanted to retire, I didn’t know if I wanted to be in the restaurant business,” Carlyn said. “I had planned to run my catering company out of The Berghoff, but so many people really wanted the restaurant to be full service again that after a while it eventually just happened.”

Staying true to The Berghoff’s motto – “tradition with a twist” – Carlyn incorporated her catering company, Artistic Events, into the Berghoff’s business model.

“There [are] three aspects of the business,” Carlyn said. “There’s the off premise catering, the bar and restaurant, and then there’s the café at O’Hare.”

The Berghoff’s menu has also been reinvented. According to Amy Ricchiuto, Marketing and Media Manager at the Berghoff, Carlyn introduced gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options to not only make meals healthier, but also to attract additional customers.

The same holds true for new seasonal items included during the months of June through October. Taking part in what the Berghoff has deemed the “200-Mile Initiative,” the restaurant purchases produce directly from farmers that plant within a 200-mile radius of Chicago to create unique, regional dishes.

“The food at the Berghoff has gotten a lot fresher since it has reopened,” customer Alan Deithart said. “I’ve eaten more salads here in the last year than I have in the past five years that I’ve been coming to this place.”

The first liquor license in Chicago. Located at the Berghoff.

The first Chicago liquor license. Issued to the Berghoff
for 78 consecutive years. (Photo by Bartosz Brzezinski)

A significant change Marisa Montos, a 10-year waitress and cashier at the Berghoff, has noticed since Carlyn’s ownership began has been the inventiveness of the restaurant’s marketing campaigns. Her favorite of which is the Berghoff’s new mascot, Herman the German.

“One day [Carlyn and I] were talking about marketing for Oktoberfest and we thought it would be a fantastic idea to put a guy in a six foot tall bratwurst costume,” Ricchiuto said. “We even went a step further and sent Herman around the city. We called it ‘Spot the Brat.’ If you see him and snap a picture, tag him on Twitter or mention him on Facebook, you’re automatically entered into a raffle for Oktoberfest prizes.”

These marketing concepts have had noticeable effects. Rahm Emanuel, when he was taken off the mayoral ballot in January, held his initial and follow-up press conferences at the Berghoff. In April, chef Emeril Lagassevisited the restaurant for dinner.

Most recently, Duff Goldman, former star of “Ace of Cakes,” chose to feature the Berghoff’s apple strudel for his new show on the Food Network.

Thus, while other restaurants are struggling to stay open, Carlyn notes that, due to the diversification of the Berghoff, the poor economy has not adversely affected business.

“From a standpoint of the restaurant, the economy tanking has always been a good thing because of the value that you get when you eat here,” Carlyn said. “From a catering perspective, it has been [harsher] because corporations aren’t entertaining. It’s become more of a social market where you have to do more events to cover the same territory.”

However, over the course of the Berghoff’s history, the need to adapt and modernize has not only been limited to Carlyn.

“Each Berghoff generation brought their own innovation to the business to keep it modern,” Ricchiuto said. “Herman Berghoff fought prohibition, developed Berghoff root beer and turned us into a full service restaurant. The second generation, Clement and Anthony, owned and operated during World War II. They survived food rationing and established a family atmosphere in the restaurant. The third generation, Jan and Herman, opened up the lower level café and started Oktoberfest.”

Berghoff's famous staples.

Berghoff's famous beer, root beer and
apple strudel. (Photo by Bartosz Brzezinski)

Originally established by Herman Berghoff in 1898 to showcase his family’s beer recipe, the restaurant grew throughout the years to become what it is today. Although the Berghoff beer brand was sold to the Joseph Huber Brewing Company in 1995, the Berghoff continues to serve Berghoff beer at the 17 W. Adams location.

What does the future hold for the Berghoff?

At the very least, in the next five years Carlyn would like to see the Berghoff open another café.

“Also, I would like to see myself develop products that could go into the retail sector,” Carlyn said. “After all, you have to keep inventing things to keep your brand alive.”

Social Media: What are people saying about The Berghoff?

Interactive Map:
Chicago bars and restaurants established prior to 1960.

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