Schnitzel king: Gerstl returns to his roots

In a world of fusion cuisine and halogen-illuminated sushi bars, one local restaurant has just gotten a blast from its past. Literally.

Ludwig's Schnitzelhouse has returned to its Schnitzelroots. New owner Hans Gerstl Jr. is the son of the founders of Charlottesville's home of Bavarian cuisine.

"Even people who come to my restaurant all the way from Germany have told me they can't get this kind of traditional food back home," says the man who proudly uses his mother's recipes.

"Mom was always in the kitchen," says Gerstl, who grew up in an apartment above the restaurant. "It was busy all the time. If someone didn't show up, I would vacuum or host, whatever needed to be done."

When Gerstl heard that the Schnitzelhouse was back on the market, with other restaurateurs vying to place new– and perhaps nouvelle– concepts in the chalet-style structure on Fontaine Avenue, he knew he had to act.

Gerstl moved back to his hometown to keep the tradition of Bavarian food alive in Charlottesville. He is incredibly pleased with his new life, even if it's a tough one.

"It's a lot of work," he says. "This job is 24-7." Spending all his time at the restaurant, Gerstl laments, "I don't really get out much."

Although born and raised in Charlottesville, Gerstl Jr., 38, has run restaurants from Florida to Missouri. He has been employed by such franchises as Disney and Olive Garden.

His father, Hans Gerstl Sr. describes his son as a "well-educated man for the job... He's as successful as we ever were."

Gerstl's life may change in the future, though. He says the Schnitzelhouse has loyal customers in Richmond and Roanoke, and Gerstl hopes to open branches of his restaurant in those cities as soon as his Charlottesville eatery really gets going.

Gerstl's not stuck in tradition. He recently added a lounge and lunches– and hopes by mid-fall to start opening on Sundays too.

Regardless of change, Gerstl hopes to keep his dream alive: serving decent fare in an elegant dining atmosphere, making sure that everyone leaves satisfied. In the realm of German food hereabouts, Hans Gerstl Jr., reigns as slinger of sausage, wielder of wieners, sovereign of schnitzel.

Hans Gerstl Jr.