By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Jan 20, 2016 at 2:32 PM

In a deal that closed today, Chef Thomas Hauck of c.1880 has become the proud owner Karl Ratzsch’s, one of Milwaukee’s oldest German eateries.

The stately restaurant, located at 320 E. Mason St., has been a fixture in Milwaukee for over 110 years. And its cuisine has proudly reflected Milwaukee’s German heritage through the lens of fine dining.

Hauck, who says he’s been working on the deal with the current owners for over a year, says it’s an honor to take over a place that’s become a part of Milwaukee for so long.

"There’s a special history with Karl Ratzsch’s in this city," says Hauck. "It taps into what people identify with Milwaukee, and it has a really important legacy. I want to have a hand in keeping that going."

As of today, the restaurant is closed for renovation and will reopen sometime in late spring. Hauck says that the space will get "a face lift, and maybe some reconstructive surgery," with the help of Patrick and Libby Castro of LP/W Design Studios, designers who assisted in creating the atmosphere at c.1880.

A bathroom will be added on the first floor, and numerous elements will get a refresh. But a variety of familiar elements – including "Mama" Ratzsch’s collection of beer steins, porcelain and glassware – will be preserved and utilized in the refreshed space.

"When you walk back in after the remodel, you’ll know that it’s Karl Ratzsch’s," says Hauck. "But we’ll be bringing it some new life."

In terms of Ratzsch’s menu, Hauck says he’ll be shifting offerings back to the restaurant’s original authentic German roots.

"Over time," he says, "particularly in the 1990s, the menu took on more of a continental European feel. We’ll be taking it back and making a shift to bring things back to how they were originally."

That includes a large selection of German beer, he says, which he’ll be carefully curating and presenting to diners in an accessible way.

Hauck says the project is expected to take a few months to complete but he hopes to reopen the restaurant sometime in April, if not sooner.

Meanwhile, c. 1880 will not be affected by Hauck's new role as owner of Karl Ratzsch's.

Ratzsch's began in 1904

Ratzsch’s Restaurant began in 1904, when Chef Otto Hermann opened Hermann’s Café on Water Street in Downtown Milwaukee. He ran the restaurant with the help of his stepdaughter, Helen. In 1929, after a 10-year courtship, Helen married Karl August Ratzsch Sr. and they purchased the café, relocating it to 320 E. Mason St. and renaming it Karl Ratzsch’s.

The two continued operation for decades before passing the reins to Karl Jr., who carried on the restaurant’s successful tradition into the 1990s before selling the restaurant to his son, Josef. It remained in the Ratzsch family until 2003, when Josef sold it to Executive Chef John Poulos, restaurant manager Tom Andera and dining room manager Judy Hazard.

Over the years, Karl Ratzsch’s has won countless awards and honors, including the Travel Holiday Magazine Award, a spot among USA Today’s "10 Best Restaurants in the U.S." list and a place in the DiRoNA Hall of Fame.

Watch OnMilwaukee for more details about the renovation as it progresses.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.