German restaurant Rathskeller closing after half century

Andrea Sims knows she very likely has a three- or four-month reunion on her hands.

The owner of the Rathskeller, a restaurant institution in Victoria, is bracing for what she expects will be waves of people having a last meal and a final schnapps at the German eatery. She expects Rathskeller close its doors this year after it is sold.

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Sims said since she listed the property with Devencore Realty for $995,000, she’s been amazed at how many people have come out of the woodwork hoping she’ll change her mind and keep it as it is.

“It is a little sad,” said Sims, who admits to getting a little misty-eyed when she thinks about closing the doors and saying goodbye to the 70-seat restaurant and the thousands of people who pop in regularly. “But everything comes to an end at some point.”

By any measure, the Rathskeller has had an impressive run. The restaurant started as a true rathskeller, which is a beer hall or restaurant in a basement. The Rathskeller started in the basement of a hotel on lower Douglas Street in the 1960s and has been serving schnitzel and all things German since 1982 at its current location at the corner of Quadra and View streets.

The menu and the look of the 3,600-square-foot restaurant has changed very little, though the collection of bric-a-brac that covers window sills, walls, mantles and beams has grown with each year.

Sims takes pride in the fact it’s been a constant in a sea of food fads that come and go with the seasons. “People know what they want before they get here, and they have trained for it,” she said, noting that means eating very lightly through the day to allow for a heavier German meal.

Sims, who is 53, has been working in the restaurant since her father Franz Krieger moved it to the Quadra location.

In her 20s, she took hotel and restaurant training courses in Europe and eventually made her way back to Victoria to work with her father and mother Gisela in the restaurant.

She said it’s the family atmosphere and the love and care they put into the place that makes it special, and the reason so many people have come to the restaurant on special occasions.

“We have been honoured and blessed to have so many people invite us into their lives when they celebrate special occasions, this is the next best thing to their own rumpus room,” she said. “We see first dates, engagements, all the way to celebrations of life.

“It’s the kind of place you can have an anniversary party, a boot [filled with beer] drinking party, and a first date all happening on the same night and everyone in the restaurant is getting along,” she said. “That’s my best night. It is awesome watching the dynamics, and that’s what the Rathskeller is.”

But the love and care takes a toll. “It’s an incredible amount of work,” said Sims, noting it is time to close the doors and do something else. “I don’t want to be like my dad who never really got the time to retire and enjoy his time,” she said, noting Franz died in 2002. “It makes you think about your own life.”

Sims said the hardest part was telling her mother Gisela that she was going to sell.

Turns out she needn’t have worried. Her mother was surprised the family had kept the place so long. Relieved, Sims said she has since come to terms with closing, though she will miss the people.

“It will be absolutely sad, but it’s important I leave on my own terms,” she said. “It will be bittersweet because it is so ingrained in the city.”

What she won’t miss is being a boss, and people stealing some of the knick-knacks from the shelves. “That’s why a lot of the stuff is now nailed down,” she said with a laugh.

She said it would be nice if someone was to buy it and run it as a restaurant, but she understands that kind of commitment is tough to make.

Rick Pettinger of Devencore Realty said the property has been getting a lot of attention.

“It’s a great location ... [properties] in that Harris Green area seem to be popular,” he said.

Pettinger said the spot is ideal as a restaurant or for some other owner-user situation be it offices or otherwise. “But it’s too small for developers,” he said, noting the 3,600-square-foot footprint doesn’t offer much room to grow. “It’s hard to build on that.”

As for Sims, she intends to take a few months off, as a life in a restaurant means she owes friends and families a lot of weekends and holidays.

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