By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Where some will see a 5,500 square foot building at Keizer Station, Suzeanne Mager sees a new BMW coupe.
For sure, the owner and president of Portland-based Gustav’s German restaurants doesn’t see the Volkswagen van she learned to drive on.
In March, Gustav’s officials signed a lease with California-based Donahue Schriber for a 5,500 square foot building, which will go at the corner of Ulali Drive and Stadium Drive in Keizer Station. Benner Stange Associates Architects, which has designed many of the Keizer Station buildings, will be the architect of the new restaurant, which will be between Men’s Wearhouse and McDonald’s.
“There should be a groundbreaking in the next six to eight weeks, then six to eight months for construction,” Mager said. “We’re hoping for a February 2015 opening.”
Mager has been doing plenty of time over the past 18 months figuring out where to expand to and how to spruce up the looks of the brand.
“It’s been a while in the works,” Mager said of coming to Keizer. “We’re looking forward to something new. Vice president of operations (Rene Briede) and I have spent the last year traveling and researching, evaluating what we wanted to do with Gustav’s. We evaluated what the brand looks like and where to go.”
Mager looked as far north as the Seattle area and as far south as the Eugene area before deciding to put her fifth restaurant in Keizer, the first new Gustav’s in 10 years.
The Gustav’s Bargarten will be the second “sit-down” restaurant in Keizer Station, following last July’s opening of Outback Steakhouse.
“This will be about the same size,” said Jack Steinhauer, director of Development and Acquisitions for Donahue Schriber. “The Outback is almost the exact same size, at 5,633 square feet.”
Mager has noticed the growth at Keizer Station.
“The development is great,” she said. “The Salem area has been hungry for something updated and newer. A lot of operators there have moved from other sites. When they moved to Keizer Station, sales went up and outperformed their business plans and continue to do so. Plus they have great anchors there like Target, the REI that just opened and the (upcoming Kaiser Permanente) medical facility. They are national brands that have a lot of resources to understand demographics and do their homework.”
Steinhauer is pleased to see a different style of restaurant come to Keizer Station.
“It’s great,” he said. “We’re looking to increase the variety of overall food at Keizer Station. This is a great local brand with a great local following. This will bring yet another option to the customers at Keizer Station.”
Nate Brown, director of Community Development for Keizer, has seen initial plans for the restaurant.
“We are working with the architect on the building details, and from first take it is going to be a gem,” Brown said.
Mayor Lore Christopher likes the sounds of that.
“I just can’t wait for the German food,” she said.
The building size and the Bargarten name on the end are two signals of a big shift for Gustav’s, a company created in 1992 by Suzeanne and her father Horst, who purchased his first restaurant in Portland in 1963.
“My first car was a Volkswagen van,” Mager said. “It’s not that it’s bad; it’s reliable and runs forever. Gustav’s is 22 years old. Every brand updates. We’ve been behind on that. We haven’t made the moves to update and to stay fresh and crisp. It’s not that we have a bad business. We’re doing $13 million a year in business, which we’re grateful for.
“But my job is to make sue the brand and our concept remains relevant,” she added. “I put a new team around me. What will the new Gustav’s look like? We’re looking at going to Seattle and Eugene. I want to do something different. The current restaurant is like a VW. I want to keep the German aspect but with modern engineering and something sleek, like a BMW coupe.”
Mager said “in a lot of ways” Gustav’s is going back to the way it started.
“We had a lineup of 21 beers,” Mager recalled. “We had 10 to 13 sausages, which we made. We had salads, pastas and soups, more like a German bistro. It was not a heavy dinner. That morphed into big plates of food. I don’t want to mess with what’s working, but people now want more options. I don’t want our restaurants to be thought of just for special occasions. A lot of people associate German food with heavy.
“My vision is something lighter, more everyday,” she added. “We will still have schnitzels, sausages and fondues. The concept is a more modern, contemporary German fare. We want to do something lighter. This is more social, more bar-centric, like you’re going to a beer garden in Germany and you can see everyone.”
In a way, the Keizer Station Gustav’s Bargarten will serve as a testbed.
“Our history is we have moved slow,” Mager said. “We want to refine it and make sure it’s working. Then the goal is to take it on the road to other markets.”