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Chicago Brauhaus: A Little Piece of Germany in Lincoln Square

It’s always Oktoberfest in the Brauhaus, according to owner and chef Harry Kempf who opened the German-American restaurant Chicago Brauhaus in Lincoln Square over 40 years ago.

“I’ve been on Lincoln Avenue for 48 years. I did not buy this place, I built this place,” said Kempf, 75, who came to the United States when he was just 19 years old from Germany.

Chicago Brauhaus prides itself on serving fresh German-American cuisine

Brauhaus mats
Brauhaus mats (Photo credit: opacity)

alongside a large stein of cold German beer. Since opening, the restaurant has become one of the busiest in Lincoln Square. It even caught the attention of the popular Food Network TV show “Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives,” hosted by Guy Fieri, and was featured as a “go-to spot in Chicago’s Lincoln Square.”

“We believe in consistency and a good product. That is my main secret,” Kempf said.

When Kempf came to the United States with his brother Guenter, he already knew that he wanted to open a restaurant. At first, Kempf spent his time playing with a big band in clubs and dancehalls around the city but he didn’t feel like he was pursuing his dreams.

He bought the property across the street from where the restaurant is located today at 4732 N. Lincoln Ave. and opened a restaurant named “Treffpunkt,” which translates to meeting place. He wanted to serve traditional German food and bring new business to the Lincoln Square area.

In order to bring new business, Kempf decided to throw Lincoln Square’s very first Oktoberfest in 1979, which was a raging success full of bands, beer and grilled brats.

Kempf saw an opportunity to expand his business when the entire block in Lincoln Square burned down, destroying the building that once held Treffpunkt. He bought the furniture store across the street, renaming it Chicago Brauhaus so that it would be more accessible to English speakers. He has been there ever since.

The surrounding area, also known as Giddings Plaza, was soon named Harry and Guenter Kempf Plaza.

“That fountain and whole plaza is named after me. Normally you have to die before they do that. So I did all that while I’m still alive,” Kempf said.

It didn’t take long before his ambitions in his restaurant started to change. He had hired the Brauhaus Trio to perform German music six nights a week and at one point played with them. He, however, still wanted the food he served in his restaurant to be fresh and made perfectly every time.

“One day I said I’m just going to cook myself. And guess what happened, I got sentenced to a life in the kitchen without parole,” said Kempf, describing how he took over the kitchen as head chef.

Kempf has kept close friends and family with him through his journey to success, and most of his staff has been there for years, which is just how he likes it. He hires for the long run, he says.

“My mom has worked here for 29 years, so I was born and raised basically in here,” said Christine Olson, 26, a hostess for eight years. “Harry says we’re like his adopted daughters. We’re just not blood, but we are family.”

Chris Suderski, a waitress, was recommended for the job 15 years ago and when asked how she likes the job there her response was “I’m still here,” with a wide smile.

Kempf has made Brauhaus a very family-oriented restaurant, hiring his son Fred Kempf.

“My dad is the chef. I do everything, bus boy, janitor, waiter, bartender, cook–I can do it all, but I enjoy it,” said Kempf, who said he’s just waiting for the day where he can be the head chef. But for now he knows dad runs the place.

“My dad is old school. He’ll teach you those old lessons you would learn as kids, like before computers,” Kempf said. “He’s stubborn and hardworking and very successful because of it.”

Even the newest of staff find working with Kempf like working with family.

“Everybody is having a good time here. We all work as a team, and everybody is easy to get along with and supportive,” said Olivia Glidden, 22, of the Ravenswood area, who has been a hostess for two months.

Customers have come to know Chicago Brauhaus as a place with good spirits and great food.

Roommates Matt Troost, Jen Fernandez and Mike Galen came in from their apartment in Wicker Park for dinner and drinks around 5 p.m.

“We wanted big beers, so we came here,” Troost, 33, said.

“The service is really good,” said Fernandez, who said she enjoyed her sausage and dumpling soup appetizer.

As 7 p.m. approached, they knew the Brauhaus Trio would be arriving, so they had no problem staying the extra time to hear them.

“We’ve got an hour and 40 minutes. We’re just getting warmed up,” Galen, 27, said.

Today the restaurant is surrounded by café’s, Greek restaurants, Mexican restaurants and more but continues to bring in great business.

“We cook everything in house. We don’t buy anything ready-made. And I think that’s part of the big success,” Kempf said.

Chicago Brauhaus is open every day of the week except Tuesday. Their hours for lunch are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and dinner Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to midnight.

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