Sunday, July 11, 2004

Look Who's Talking: George Fraundorfer

Four decades of food

George Fraundorfer
Yet another tour bus was streaming out of the Black Forest restaurant parking lot when George Fraundorfer sat down to talk.

It's been 40 years since Fraundorfer and his wife Christiel opened the Gaslight restaurant in Monfort Heights, and 21 years this week since they opened Black Forest at its current West Chester location at 8675 Cincinnati-Columbus Road.

This past week was a series of celebrations, and in September, the restaurant will give away a weeklong trip for two to Fraundorfer's Bavarian Alps hometown of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where his family still operates a Gasthof.

Black Forest is one of dwindling number of authentic German restaurants left in Greater Cincinnati. But its operator has experiences far beyond that, including a six-year stint as sous-chef at the Maisonette starting in 1957.

He sat down with the Enquirer to talk about Black Forest and his four decades in the restaurant business.

WHAT'S THE BIGGEST difference between doing business now and in 1964?

Quite a bit. When we first started out, we started out on a shoestring. We had 86 seats, the lounge was also the restaurant. We had a party room that seated 300 people ... When we started out, if you made a profit, you made a profit of 15 to 25 percent, and you did real good, so you had some more room to experiment with different things. Today, when you are at 2 to 3 percent profit, competition is much more difficult. You can't play around and try different things.

WHAT WAS THAT first year in business like?

It was really difficult. I remember my German friends, people would come in, and they would order one meal and one sandwich, just in case the food wasn't any good, so they wouldn't waste their money on two meals. Fortunately, my wife was still working. When we started I made $50 a week, sometimes not even that.

WHEN YOU GO OUT to eat, where do you go?

I like to go to independent restaurants, and all types of restaurants, from Chinese to French to German. We like the Bistro (at Harper's Point) and Wertheim's (in Covington).

WHAT'S THE BIGGEST business challenge you've faced in 40 years?

Keeping your name in front of customers. Not having the advertising power, it's very difficult. That's why we do a lot of festivals, like ... the Taste of Cincinnati, just to keep our name in front of the people. All the German clubs are the ones who are very busy visiting us, because of our authentic German food. And we do German music every weekend, so that brings them out.

Cliff Peale

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