Chef Armin Wolf keeps his wife clear of the kitchen. It’s not that she isn’t a good cook – she’s a great one, actually – but he jokes that if he didn’t, the two of just might be running a Polish restaurant rather than the German one they own and operate on Hope Mills Road. Armin is German. His wife, Elzbieta, (Elizabeth in English) is Polish. He hails from Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the famous medieval walled-in village in southern Germany. She is a native of the equally historic city of Gliwice in Oberschlesien, a part of Poland that once was part of the Austrian and Prussian empires. Despite being European neighbors, they met in the United States in 1995 while Armin was vacationing in North Carolina. They married and dreamed of opening their own restaurant. That dream became reality in September 2006 when they opened Wolf’s German American Restaurant at 2425 Hope Mills Road.
Now, he prepares the meals, and she helps run the restaurant. He understands English but speaks the language with a heavy accent, while she speaks both English and German fluently. The Wolfs are a team who work seven days a week to make the restaurant a success. Vacation for Armin Wolf is cooking food at his restaurant, he said. Both are experienced in making food tasty. In his 22 years of cooking experience, Armin worked as a chef in Germany and on the high seas. After business school, he became a cook at a major hospital where he prepared food for diabetic patients. He also worked as a chef on several ships, including the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines and on the Lili Marleen, a sail-powered, 50-passenger cruise ship.
Elzbieta gained her restaurant experience in Germany and locally, working at the who’s who of Fayetteville’s German restaurants: Taste of Europe, Imbus Hotbox, Max und Moritz and the former Café Mozart. Wolf’s German American Restaurant is located next to McDonald Lumber Company off busy Hope Mills Road and two doors down from Superior Bakery, where the Wolfs buy their bread fresh from the oven. The front of the restaurant resembles a fenced-in mini bier garden with rustic outdoor seating made of rough lumber. Inside, the décor consists of an eclectic menagerie: the quintessential German beer stein is well represented along with wheat and corn stalks, grapevine, nutcrackers and a suit of armor holding a plate depicting the Wolf family crest. Tiffany lamps spew light over countrified tables and chairs. Scattered throughout the restaurant are posters of Armin’s famous and historic hometown.
In the middle of the restaurant is the Stammtisch, a table reserved for repeat customers. It’s a German eatery tradition to reserve such a table. The table easily accommodates a dozen people; however, more tables are often added to accommodate even larger crowds gathering at the Stammtisch. The patronage is varied, Elzbieta said. Yes, there are the German regulars, but also the Americans and the Russians. One of their best customers is a gentleman from Bulgaria who eats there most Saturdays. The menu is simple and categorized into soups, salads, chicken, pork and beef dishes and desserts. The pork dishes include the basic breaded pork schnitzel with potato salad, the Jaeger (hunter) schnitzel with mushroom gravy and the Zigeuner (gypsy) schnitzel with bell peppers. Beef dishes include roulade with potato dumplings and rib-eye steak with fries. The pork and Jaeger schnitzel and the beef roulade are the most requested items, Elzbieta said.
The food is prepared fresh, and the wait staff is fast and efficient. The mixed salad and bread is served within three minutes of being seated. The main entrée is served within 10 minutes. The food is plentiful. “No one leaves hungry,” Elzbieta says. Serving good food is only part of the recipe to running a successful restaurant, according to the Wolfs. Elzbieta says it’s important to have a cozy atmosphere and provide a place where people can leave their cell phones off and have fun and socialize. To that end, the Wolfs make sure there are good times to be had on holidays. For New Year’s Eve, the Wolfs put out a buffet and hired a DJ that kept people dancing.
But it’s their Oktoberfest where the Wolfs try to shine. The granddaddy of this annual 200-year-old celebration of a Bavarian royal wedding is held in late September and early October in Munich, and much of it revolves around drinking what is considered to be Germany’s best beers provided by its top breweries. Locally, German restaurants host their mini versions of that event. To that end, the Wolfs engaged the Bavarian Brass Band, a local 13-member group that plays peppy polkas and waltzes. “It’s very happy music,” said Bill Howard, one of the members who helped form the band for a second time in 2001. The band has performed at the Wolf’s Oktoberfest for the past two years, wearing the traditional bundhose, knee-socks and Bavarian Alpine hats. The wives of band members wear the traditional dirndl and hand out the lyrics to sing-alongs and get the patrons to participate in the chicken dance. Armin said he wants to host more of these events, perhaps a senior night or “dance café” with music from the 1970s or 1980s, he mused.