News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

May 16, 2014

Tavern turnover

Iconic Bierstube owner retires after 37 years at the helm

TERRE HAUTE — Since 1977, Gerhardt Wigginton has owned and operated Gerhardt’s Bierstube, a popular German restaurant, on Terre Haute’s north side.

As of Monday, the Bierstube will remain — but minus Gerhardt. He is retiring and selling the restaurant to Michael and Cathy Judd.

Tonight is Gerhardt’s last to wear traditional Bavarian clothing and greet his customers.

“I’m 65. Thirty-seven years in the restaurant business is more than enough, and my wife is ill so I’ll be able to spend time with her,” he said.

But it’s not easy. “It hits me every once in a while … There is so much in here that I brought in or did,” he said. “It’s not just a job you are leaving; it’s kind of a way of life for 37 years.”

During that time, he has remodeled, added on and added to the menu; he’s provided additional decor, much of it from Germany. His wife, Fran, did the bookkeeping.

“I spend 60 hours a week here easy,” he said during an interview at the restaurant.

What he’ll miss most “is seeing all the people who come in here, all my customers, who have been coming here for years and years,” he said.

Among those loyal customers is Anita Davis, a Terre Haute resident who lives in Collett Park.

Gerhardt’s Bierstube has been a family tradition for years, she said. She and her husband ate there when they dated — and they will soon celebrate 40 years of marriage.

Three sisters and two sons have had wedding rehearsal dinners there, and her daughter, Greta — who gets married this fall — also wants to have her rehearsal dinner and reception there. “It’s been a special place,” Davis said.

When her children were small, the family used to request a cozy back room — big enough for about eight people — to eat.  They had more privacy, and that way, “The kids didn’t bother anyone,” she said.

When family members heard Gerhardt was selling the restaurant, several of them gathered there recently to eat dinner.

“It’s the only place you can get German food in Terre Haute,” she said. While they are happy for Gerhardt, they’re also sad to see him go. “He has treated us like family,” Davis said.

According to Gerhardt, many of his customers share stories about having their first date or various family celebrations there. “Over that many years, we’ve gone from people dating to getting married and having kids and then their kids coming here,” he said.

While business slowed somewhat in the recent recession, he said it’s now picking up. These days, there’s a lot more competition from other restaurants, including chains, than when he first bought Bierstube.

Also, “The north end never has taken off,” he said. Several businesses that once brought customers to the northside are no longer there. “Everything is on the south end of town.”

Popular items at Bierstube include wienerschnitzel, which is breaded veal, stuffed beef rolls (rouladen) and sauerkraut balls, an appetizer. “Almost everything we have here we make,” he said.

Michael and Cathy Judd will become the new owners on Monday. Michael Judd says it’s been a dream of his to own a pub or restaurant. He served in Germany with the Air Force for four years and Bierstube reminds him of the places he frequented back then.

When he learned Bierstube was for sale, he talked to Gerhardt. Judd and his wife have been there each night recently learning the ropes  — and recipes.

Judd is aware that many startup restaurants or pubs fail in the first year, which is one reason he chose Bierstube; it is well grounded and has been in business a long time. “I think this is a very successful business,” he said.

Judd plans an exterior facelift for the building, and while the German menu will remain the same, the Judds may expand it to include other items that are popular with local residents.

The Judds also plan to put in a full bar and hope to find local bands to play in the Biergarten on Friday and Saturdays.

For now, hours will remain the same, Tuesday through Thursday 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Judd hopes eventually to offer lunch and to open Mondays.

The restaurant will be called The Bierstube (no more Gerhardt). “It’s going to be an interesting journey,” said Judd, who is air traffic manager at the FAA control tower at Terre Haute International Airport.

Gerhardt says there are certain things he won’t miss, including bookkeeping, taxes and “government stuff.”

But he will miss the customers. “It’s been a great run. In some ways I hate to see it end, but at one point you almost have to. I’m going to miss everybody, definitely,” he said.

The restaurant is located at 1724 Lafayette Ave.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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