NEW ULM - The man who began operating one of southern Minnesota's best-known restaurants with his parents on a cold, January day 75 years ago, when it was converted from a 3.2 bar to a German restaurant, died Saturday at Oak Hills Living Center.
Don Veigel, 91, could be found at the award-winning Kaiserhoff restaurant just about any day of the week until recently. The restaurant began in a small beer tavern down the street, not far from where the current establishment is located at 221 N Minnesota St.
Except for a few years when he served in the U.S. Army in World War II, Veigel worked at the Kaiserhoff, first with his parents, Albert and Minnie Veigel, and then as the sole owner and operator. In recent years, he turned management over to his wife, Jan, but he could still be found most days meeting and greeting customers in bar of the restaurant.
Journal file photo
Don Veigel and his wife Jan in February, 2013, during an interview marking Don's 75th year in the restaurant business in New Ulm.
In 2011, the Kaiserhoff was featured as "Official Best Barbecued Ribs in Minnesota" in a 30-minute television special on The Discovery Channel and KARE 11. The Kaiserhoff bottles its own barbecued ribs sauce and sells it to area grocery stores.
The Kaiserhoff is famous for its ribs, and for the ads Veigel would run during statewide sporting events.
The ads would show Veigel starting in on a plate of ribs at the Kaiserhoff. Soon a mountain of rib bones would cover the table. Veigel would look up and say, "As you can see, I love these ribs. You will, too." One time, legendary Minnesota Twins outfielder Bob Allison, a good friend of Veigel's, joined him in the ribfest.
Other popular Kaiserhoff menu items include German and American specialties, including red cabbage, sauerkraut and spaetzle. Some of Veigels friends have been immortalized with their names on the menu - the Bob Stout Special, or the Lewie Benson Special, a short rack of ribs with a grilled cheese sandwich.
Veigel had close, personal relationships with just about anybody who was anyone in Minnesota's professional sports world for decades. Autographed photos of Allison, New Ulm native and former Twins and Oakland Athletics player Terry Steinbach, and Minnesota Twins players Tony Oliva, Kirby Puckett and Joe Mauer can be found in the restaurant.
In a 2011 interview, Veigel said singer John Denver would order 20 barbecued ribs meals to go when he visited his second wife's family in St. Peter.
Former New Ulm Mayor Carl "Red" Wyczawski talked fondly of Veigel Saturday. "It's a big loss for New Ulm. I'll miss him dearly," Wyczawski said. "He contributed so much. He sponsored the Kaiserhoff baseball team for so many years and hosted a golf tournament that drew major leaguers and other media celebrities here to golf and eat here. Don had many friends here and in the Twin Cities and many other big cities. I went to many restaurants in Milwaukee, New York and Chicago when I traveled with baseball teams I worked for. The Kaiserhoff compared with any of them I've been to. It certainly one of the best in southern Minnesota. I've had many meals there, as many people around here and from many other places, have."
Wyczawski called Veigel "an interesting guy and good, down to earth person" with many friends including former major league baseball stars Mickey Mantle and Ernie Banks whom he golfed with in Las Vegas and Hawaii for many years.
"Two of my children worked for Don. They said he was the best boss they ever had," Wyczawski said. "He never yelled at anyone and treated everyone extremely well. It was fun to golf with him. Everyone enjoyed his company."
Denis Warta of New Ulm said Veigel stepped forwarded to fund the Kaiserhoff amateur baseball team when nobody else would and sponsored the Kaiserhoff Classic Golf Tournament, now sponsored by the B&L Bar.
"The Kaiserhoff Classic on the last Monday in July grew so much, it had a waiting list to get in it," Warta said. "We lost a real New Ulm icon. Don was a great promoter of New Ulm in many ways. He was also a great bowler for many years. Those great Kaiserhoff ribs are a true German-American dish, char-broiled with sauce, like they are in Germany. Their sauerkraut meals, especially on Thursdays, draw people from far and wide to taste and savor."
In February this year, looking back on 75 years in the business, Veigel said, "I love the business. I love the people, I love the employees, I love the many, many good friends we've had over 75 years."
The success of the Kaiserhoff showed they loved Veigel, too.
Funeral arrangements are pending with the Minnesota Valley Funeral Home in New Ulm.