Hofbräuhaus St. Louis raised eyebrows over the weekend when it abruptly closed its doors and promised a grand reopening this week under new management.
Matt Simmons, the new general manager, said Tuesday the break was needed to solve problems and make improvements at the 1,000-seat German restaurant and brewery in Belleville. He predicted it would reopen by Wednesday and host a celebration with entertainment late this week or early next week.
“We’re doing some training and just finalizing some things,” he said. “We’re trying to get all our ducks in row so we can give people the best experience possible. I want this to be perfect.”
Simmons said customers will see subtle and not-so-subtle changes related to the menu, service, music and calendar of events.
“The food will be as good or better,” he said. “We listened to customer feedback, and we want to make customers happy.”
Hofbräuhaus is off Illinois 15, across from the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. It’s one of eight Hofbräuhaus of America franchises, patterned off the centuries-old Hofbräuhaus am Platzl in Munich, Germany, and owned by the Keller family, based in Effingham.
Simmons acknowledged that crowds had decreased since Hofbräuhaus St. Louis opened in 2018. He blamed that partly on staff complacency, which he called “unacceptable.”
“They sunk a lot of money into this place,” he said. “The Kellers, the city, the bank and the Oblates. And I’m here to make sure it succeeds. We owe it to the community.”
The city of Belleville spent $2.42 million to extend sewer lines to the development site. It granted tax incentives worth up to $32.36 million, but those were based on future revenues generated by the restaurant and brewery, not paid upfront. The city also is collecting sales taxes.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate is a Catholic religious order that operates Our Lady of the Snows and owns the land on which Hofbräuhaus sits.
“I want to make it like the one in Munich,” Simmons said. “I want people to feel like this is a place that you have to come when you’re in town.”
New manager is Georgia attorney
Simmons, 38, is an attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. He said he came to Belleville three weeks ago to help the Keller family, who are clients and friends. For the first two weeks, he just observed and talked to customers at Hofbräuhaus.
Simmons decided to close for a few days with the blessing of company President Chane Keller, 30, of Belleville, who runs the restaurant and brewery for his family.
Keller said Tuesday that Hofbräuhaus has good managers and staff, but he knew changes were needed.
“When you look at our reviews — and they are consistent — there was a problem with noise and service, and those are the things we’re working to address,” he said. “That’s why we closed this weekend, to get everybody retrained and bring the quality back. We have a first-class facility, but we weren’t delivering first-class service.”
On Tuesday, banners posted outside Hofbräuhaus advertised Sunday brunches and open interviews for job applicants.
Some of Simmons and Keller’s plans are designed to make the restaurant and brewery a destination place for people from other cities and states. That includes “big” monthly events, such as a Halloween weekend in October, and “huge” quarterly events.
There also will be specials for college students, first responders and other groups on designated nights.
“Come Christmastime, this place will be an obligatory stop for anyone who goes to the Way of Lights,” Simmons said. “We’re going to light it up like a birthday cake. We’re going to have an ice-skating rink, games for kids, performances and other things that will be announced when it’s appropriate.”
The Way of Lights is an annual holiday display at Our Lady of the Snows that draws people from throughout the region.
Announcement made on Facebook
Hofbräuhaus closed Thursday night. Signs on doors read “Join Us For Our Grand Re-opening, New Management, Brewing an Even Better Experience, Keep Posted — Date Announced Shortly!” The same information was posted on the restaurant and brewery’s Facebook page and relayed in its phone message.
On Tuesday, several would-be customers showed up outside the front door at the normal opening time of 11 a.m. They didn’t know about the closure.
“Well, that’s disappointing,” said Carol Sanders, 76, of Fenton, Missouri. “We were going to celebrate my brother’s birthday. He’s 75 today.”
Sanders was with her husband, Charlie Sanders, brother, Don Adams and cousins, Dorothy and John Slattery. They had driven by Hofbräuhaus several times in the past two years, but never stopped.
After finding the door locked, the family decided to go across the road and eat lunch at the Shrine Restaurant & Banquet Center instead.
“I was hungry for some sauerkraut, and I’m sure they have good sauerkraut (at Hofbräuhaus),” said Dorothy Slattery, 74, of Fenton. “And my cousin was actually going to have a beer, and she never drinks beer.”
Chuck Keller, the Effingham businessman who developed Hofbräuhaus along with his sons, died in January on his 80th birthday.
The restaurant and brewery cost $12 million to build, according to the Kellers. It opened in March of 2018, about two years after the original target date. The family has proposed building hotels, other restaurants and a convenience store on the Illinois 15 site, but construction hasn’t begun.
Simmons said he is still practicing law and doesn’t know how his role at Hofbräuhaus will evolve in the coming weeks and months.
“I care about (the Kellers), and I want to make sure that they’re OK,” he said. “Money doesn’t matter to me. It’s what you give to this world.”