The New York State Restaurant Association honored the owners of the Ossining-based Brasserie Swiss for their 32 years of service. Swiss natives Rolf and Verena Baumgartner opened the chalet-style eatery in 1978 serving up fondues, spatzil, wienerschnitzel and a variety of other foods.
Read the article I wrote about Baumgartners in 2003 when they were celebrating 25 years of service after the jump.
When Rolf and Verena Baumgartner opened Brasserie Swiss in January 1978, they never expected to be serving up the same menu 25 years later. But the Swiss natives both agree that consistency has been the key to their longevity.
“We know about the trends with nouvelle and fusion cuisines,” Verena Baumgartner said. The 54-year-old singlehandedly serves as waitress, bartender and hostess at the eatery. “We decided to just stick with what we know. It’s funny, but it has worked.”
Swiss food, though, is not all cheese fondue. The small country known for neutrality and discreet banking is surrounded by Germany, France, Italy and Austria, and its cooking reflects those culinary influences.
“We combine those countries into one pot,” said Rolf Baumgartner, laughing as he whipped up seven dishes of Bavarian chicken with spaetzle (flour dumplings), salmon in fish sauce, a ham omelette and steaks in a mushroom cream sauce in under 15 minutes. The 56-year-old has been the sole chef at Brasserie Swiss since it opened.
Their menu is not the only constant, either. The decor of the Croton Avenue brasserie has stayed exactly the same since its debut, sans the addition of several culinary awards Rolf Baumgartner displays on the white walls.
Upon entering the 80-seat dining room, patrons are transported into a Swiss-like chalet with paintings of the Alps and stained-glass replicas of the Swiss coat-of-arms throughout. Shepherds’ horns and an oversized cow bell – rung for birthdays and anniversaries – hang from the wood-beamed ceilings. Toblerone chocolate boxes reflective of what goes in their chocolate mousse are also key decorative components.
“We’ve only painted the walls a few times over the years,” Verena Baumgartner said. “We never modernized it, because it wouldn’t be us.”
Last week, the Baumgartners, who live in Cortlandt, received a special recognition by the Ossining village board for their years of service to the community, the first such award ever given to a village business.
“I grew up in Ossining, and I don’t know of a restaurant in the village that has been able to stay open that long,” Mayor John Perillo said. “To sustain a business for 25 years is a credit to their establishment, the management and the community that supports them. We just wanted to say thanks for staying with us.”
Sticking around, however, has not come without challenge.
Throughout the 1980s, the duo had the help of several waitresses, bartenders and dishwashers as their restaurant was filled to capacity nightly. The economic hardships of the early 1990s were also felt at the Swiss restaurant.
A drastic decline in clientele resulting from the closure of many businesses in Ossining forced the Baumgartners to get rid of all their assistance. They have mostly been on their own ever since.
“In 1993, we went so many weeks without paychecks that we thought we were going to have to close down,” Verena Baumgartner said. “We didn’t take a vacation for five years, and we had to open on Sundays for more business.”
In 1998, the couple were again struck with hard times when Rolf Baumgartner suffered a heart attack. During his two months of recovery, Verena took over the kitchen, preparing and serving the meals. Neither of their children, Robert, 25, a graphic designer for Sotheby’s, or Susan, a 22-year-old teacher in Cortlandt, opted to go into the family business.
In these slow economic times, the trade at Brasserie Swiss is not much better.
“I have to do all the cooking because we don’t have enough business during the week to hire someone; you can’t get a cook to work just on the weekends,” said Rolf Baumgartner, who sometimes makes 70 meals on a Saturday night. “It’s just me and my wife, and that’s fine.”
Regardless of the difficulties the Baumgartners have encountered along the way, the couple’s love for serving up their native cuisine to faithful customers is all they need to keep going. The two met in Holland and came to the United States in 1970, working together in a Manhattan restaurant and an upstate inn before striking out on their own.
“I’ve eaten all over the world, and it’s hard to find a better meal or friendlier service,” Ossining resident Bob Davis said. “Rolf is one of those old-style European chefs who makes superb food. And it’s always served on a hot plate.”
On the way out, Davis offered Baumgartner $100 for his fish sauce. True to his jovial self, the chef just heartily chuckled and walked back into his kitchen.