Eat + Drink

Vail Village’s Beloved Alpenrose Restaurant Gets an Authentic Culinary Makeover

A family of restaurateurs from Germany’s Black Forest reinvent a much-loved relic of “Plastic Bavaria.”

By Devon O'Neil February 11, 2019 Published in the Midwinter-Spring 2019 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

Last September, Alyssa Thoma received a surprise phone call from Sharon Mou. Thoma, part of the German family of restaurateurs who in 2016 opened Almresi, a wildly successful Bavarian eatery at the top of Bridge Street in Vail Village, was busy preparing to open a second Almresi location in Aspen. Mou, owner of Alpenrose, asked Thoma if she might be interested in taking over the landmark establishment, which has been serving Austrian and German cuisine in the village since 1974.

Bratwurst with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut

It was a tempting proposition. Thoma knew that her father, Franz, a restaurateur who oversees Thoma Event, a trio of family restaurants in Germany’s Black Forest, had admired Alpenrose since he first visited Vail Village in 1985 and befriended the Bavarian hot spot’s founding chef, Peter Haller.

“So I just asked [Mou for details about terms of the Alpenrose sale] for fun, honestly,” says Alyssa Thoma, “and somehow I started talking with the landlord.”

Simultaneously, the Thomas had run into a permitting snafu that had put their Aspen project on hold until the end of winter. With 16 employees already on the way from Germany and Austria and nowhere for them to work, the out-of-the-blue Alpenrose offer seemed like kismet. Soon after her initial conversation with Mou, Alyssa Thoma and her family agreed to take over the space. Thus began two of the most frenzied months of their lives.

Knusprige Entenkeule (crispy duck leg with red cabbage and spätzle)

They gutted the 44-year-old restaurant and refurbished the interior, relocating the drafty front door to the building’s east side and adding everything from reclaimed European barnwood paneling to a walnut bar to a “First Date Chair” with a small table wedged between two single chairlifts. “It’s for experts only,” chuckles Joshua Thoma, 26, who runs the restaurant with his big sister, Alyssa, 28. In the busy weeks leading up to Alpenrose’s reopening on December 16, the siblings drove around Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands buying what they needed, then packed it all into a shipping container bound from Germany to Vail: tables, benches, china, silverware, glassware, pillows, fur, even the glacier goggles strapped to traditional wool Alpine hats worn by the staff (at press time, they were still waiting for their lederhosen uniforms to arrive from South Tyrol).

“Everything you see is from Germany and Austria,” says Joshua Thoma, who, in addition to English, is fluent in Spanish and German. “The wood, the beer, the employees.”

Joshua Thoma

And, of course, the food. Franz Thoma, 55, is a chef by trade. His three restaurants in Germany (including a mountain hut in the family’s hometown of Hinterzarten, a resort town famous for fielding Olympic ski jumpers, including Dietr Thoma, who won bronze at Lillehammer and silver at Nagano, and Georg Thoma, who won gold at the 1960 Winter Games) employ 100 people and serve between 2,000 and 4,000 per day. He designed the menu while overseeing Alpenrose’s transformation via biweekly Frankfurt-to-Denver flights. (The family’s matriarch, Diana, keeps everyone in line and handles the aesthetics.) In addition to culinary standouts like traditional German schnitzel with spätzle and red cabbage, Alpenrose ups the ante with foie gras bratwurst, even a truffle ricotta ravioli. The dessert case still includes delectable pastries the place is famous for (like apfelstrudel, natürlich) but also heidelbeer-palatschinken (a traditional Austrian blueberry pancake)—and for coffee nerds, an Italian Lavazza espresso machine. Joshua Thoma’s menu favorites? The crispy duck leg with spätzle and red cabbage—“super crispy outside and super juicy inside” is how he describes it—followed by the Kaiserschmarrn. “It’s like the dessert baby of French toast and pancakes,” he explains.

Kaiserschmarrn (traditional Austrian pancake with cherry compote)

Alpenrose seats 80 people inside and 60 on the rebuilt front deck, which remains one of the sunniest après-ski spots in the village come spring—and pairs especially well with a German pretzel and Fürstenberg pilsner. The whole idea of taking over Alpenrose, Alyssa Thoma says, was to maintain that magic while updating the motif.

“If something almost falls asleep, you need to wake it up and put some new life into it,” she adds. “That’s why we kept the name and a similar menu, but also why we’re putting our signature on it.” The stamp the family has put on Alpenrose, like the branded stein that pils is served in, comes straight from the heart of Germany’s Black Forest.


100 E Meadow Dr, Vail Village

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