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About Utah: A tasty slice of Germany in an unexpected place

Published: Sunday, May 11 2014 10:20 p.m. MDT

Das Café, located on Main Street in Spring City next to the social hall.

Lee Benson

SPRING CITY, Sanpete County — Caroline Lott and her sister Katy Harmer do not have a difficult time remembering how many people predicted great success for them two years ago when they announced their plan to open a German restaurant on Main Street.

Because there weren’t any.

They might as well have said they were opening a tattoo parlor.

The problem wasn’t opening a restaurant. The problem was where.

Unless you happen to be one of the 900 people who live here — mostly ranchers, farmers and a small collection of artists — Spring City isn’t on the way to anywhere. Besides some assorted artisan-type stores that are open at sporadic hours, the only retail business in town is a gas station.

If people in Spring City don’t want to eat their own cooking, they drive five miles to Mount Pleasant or 10 miles to Ephraim. It’s been that way for years.

So people looked at Caroline and Katy like they’d lost their minds.

Even two years later, now that their dream restaurant, Das Café, is the biggest thing to happen in Spring City since the invention of the hay bailer, they get people who tell them, nah, it’ll never work.

But they’re way too busy serving authentic servings of schnitzel, goulash, German meatballs, sauerbraten, bratwurst, Reuben sandwiches, apple strudel and carrot cake so delicious picky people on a diet count it as a vegetable to even pay attention.

* * *

Caroline and Katy’s biggest fan, best customer and top cook is Gerold Schroeder. Or, as the family calls him, Opa (that’s “Grandpa” to us English-speakers).

Opa is the inspiration behind Das Café — a man who knows a thing or two about being persistent and chasing impossible dreams.

Gerold was born in 1941 in Germany, smack in the middle of Adolf Hitler’s war on the world. Four years later, when the war ended, and not in Hitler’s favor, Gerold and his family found themselves in that portion of Germany that was taken over by the Soviet Union. They were not free to leave East Germany.

As he grew to manhood, the oppression wore on Gerold. He spoke his mind, which got him placed on political probation.

He was stuck — until he made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, sneaked past the guards and threw himself on the mercy of the Americans, pleading for political asylum.

They could do nothing for him politically, he was told, but what about his religion? He was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had been all his life.

Apply for asylum on religious grounds, he was advised.

So he did, and in December 1981, 40-year-old Gerold Schroeder, wife Christa and their children arrived in Salt Lake City, religious refugees, ready to start a new life.

Gerold’s vocation was electric motor and machine repair. He opened a shop in Salt Lake, but when the air pollution in the Salt Lake Valley exacerbated an already existing breathing problem, he moved to the country, relocating Schroeder Electric Motor 100 miles south to Mount Pleasant. He bought a home in nearby Spring City, where the air is clean and clear.

Gerold often talked to his children about his hope of opening his own restaurant and bakery someday. It was his dream. “I know what it means to be hungry. That is why I like food, maybe,” he’d say.

His fantasy eluded him as he concentrated instead on making a living.

But the kids listened — and two years ago, two of them, Caroline and Katy, decided to run with his dream.

Caroline was the driving force. She started working at a restaurant in nearby Fairview when she was 14 years old and through the years learned all aspects of the industry. She talked Katy into partnering with her on the grounds that they were a) Gerold’s daughters, b) best friends and c) they could walk to work.

The deal was clinched when they talked Gerold and Christa, who can also walk to the café, into helping with the cooking. Oma and Opa make the bread and the soup, among other things.

Caroline’s philosophy is, essentially, if you cook it sensationally, they will come.

That and include bacon in virtually everything.

“Vitamin B, we call it,” she says.

Whatever their recipe, it’s working. Das Café is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and it’s often hard to find a table at the peak of the breakfast and lunch hours.

And on Saturdays, it can be a circus. Car clubs and motorcycle clubs have discovered the unexpected slice of Germany in central Utah and flock to Spring City in droves.

Caroline sums up her reaction in two words: “Surprised and overwhelmed.”

She's never worked so hard, or been so successful.

“No one ever said, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea,’ ” she remembers. “Nobody. This thing we’re doing, it wasn’t supposed to work.”

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: benson@deseretnews.com

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