By Ann Donnelly
Chef Christian Raeth, originally from Erlangen in the Bavarian region of Germany, is looking forward to the opening of his new restaurant, Spargel on Nine, later this month. As the name suggests, the restaurant is located at 925 Route 9 in Queensbury, in the former location of Outback Steakhouse and, more recently, 40 Oak.
“While this is my first time owning a restaurant,” says Raeth, “The vision of what we are trying to accomplish has been clear to me for decades. It has always been my dream.
Raeth started his culinary training with an aprenticeship in his native Germany in 1984 and has worked in some of the top restaurants in Germany, Italy, France, and Switzerland. In 1991, Raeth came to the USA, where his sister had relocated, and found a position at the Albany Country Club, where he worked for four years until he returned to Germany.
After his father died in 2000, Raeth returned to New York State to stay. He worked in fine dining in country clubs and restaurants like Van Patten Golf Club in Clifton Park, Fort William Henry in Lake George, and Pumpernickle’s in Bolton Landing. For the last 13 years, Raeth spent most of his time out of the kitchen, working in sales for Sysco, the world’s largest wholesale food distributor.
Raeth aims to offer a more authentic German dining experience. “I want to give the customer the experience of walking into a restaurant in Germany, but not in a tourist area. There are no dirndls, no lederhosen. No ‘oompah’ music. If it’s your birthday, nobody will do the chicken dance.”
Raeth plans to focus on vibrant, fresh dishes. “There will hardly be anything in the freezer besides some french fries and ice cream.” The menu will be a healthy mixture of the classics, some comfort food, and some high-end, more elegant dishes. “We include sauerbraten, roast pork, roulade, goulash, and red cabbage made from scratch. But there is a whole different type of German cooking that nobody here really touches. There is filet minion and strip steak, just done in a little bit of a different way. We hired plenty of talent for the kitchen, and I’ve been around long enough, so there is nothing that we cannot execute and cook. It just has to fit and be wanted by the customer. I hope that the community will embrace it.”
There is one German dining tradition that Raeth hopes to incorporate a couple of months after they have developed a few regular customers. “Stammtisch is a community table for regulars. If you regularly come into the restaurant, you won’t need to yell across the bar to your friends. A table will be reserved as ‘Stammtisch’ for regulars to sit together. Some may just have a drink, while others may be eating.”
Of course, beer will be an essential part of the dining experience. “Breweries in Germany are very important in the food industry. They either own the restaurant or the building housing it, so the proprietor can only bring in beer from that brewery,” says Raeth. Spargel on Nine will serve seven varieties of beer from Weihenstephan, the Bavarian State Brewery, the oldest brewery in the world, established in 1040.” Raeth worked with a representative from the brewery and the distributor to convince Weihenstephan to import four more flavors.
Spargel on Nine will open with 34 members of staff. “We’ve hired phenomenal people, especially the wait staff. I consider them to be my sales force. Every day at 3:30 pm, we will have a ‘family dinner’ with everyone from the owner to the bus boy and in between. This restaurant is my dream and a long time coming, but I cannot do it alone. I need a big team. This is a rewarding business, but it must be in a healthy environment. That is up to me to create, and that’s what I’m after.”
Raeth describes an interview with one young woman for a position as a busser, “When she saw the plates were nicer than where she worked before, she said, ‘I’m afraid I will drop the plate,’ and I said, ‘Yes, you are going to drop plates. I’m going to overcook a steak. A waitress is going to forget to put in an order. We are human. We make mistakes.’ This is the environment that I am after.”
When asked about the name, Raeth says, “It was difficult to come up with a name that showed that it isn’t the well-known cliche of a German restaurant, i.e. Queensbury Brewhaus.” Spargel means asparagus in German. Asparagus is a popular dish in Germany, mainly white asparagus, in the first three weeks of June when the fresh crop is available.
The restaurant has received a fresh coat of paint to cover the existing interior, reflecting Outback’s Aussie theme. “A neighbor came in and painted. Another did some handy work. It’s phenomenal who came on board to make this happen.” When you walk in the front door, you see a map of Germany and the surrounding countries that have influenced its cuisine. There are also pictures throughout the restaurant with images of Erlangen, Raeth’s birthplace, and asparagus.
Raeth hopes people come from a bit further for a different experience. “The phone keeps ringing. People are coming in and asking, wanting to make reservations. The buzz around this concept is phenomenal. If half the people show up, we will be in trouble.”
To start, Spargel on Nine will be open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner only. “Once we can deliver dinner consistently on a high level, we will look to expand dinner to six days a week and then roll into lunch, and once we master that, we will look at offsite catering.”