Other than hot dogs and sausage, German food has not made its way into the American zeitgeist the way Italian or Mexican food has.
But don’t tell that to the Matushes.
This year marks the 45th year since Wally Matush bought the Harney Peak Hotel and the 35th year of the Alpine Inn.
While Wally no longer runs the restaurant—her daughter, Moni Matush, took over in the 1990s—the restaurant has not changed course, still offering the same dishes as before.
And Wally can still be found at the hostess stand, ready to welcome guests into the world that she created.
Wally Matush said she had no experience in the restaurant industry before she opened the Alpine Inn. However, she was still willing to take a risk on herself.
“When the ‘Orphan Train’ came by and they filmed that here (in 1979) — I was a seamstress with them — and some of the fellows asked me why don’t you open up a restaurant?” Wally said. “And so that was sort of the idea then. I thought ‘could I do it?’ ”
And did it she did, turning an idea into a restaurant that serves scores of guests each night with a line that can sometimes wrap around the block.
Wally Matush got her feet wet in the restaurant industry by serving breakfasts and lunches in 1980 while other businesses were in the building.
None of them lasted, she said, which spurned her to create the Alpine Inn in 1984.
“She finally got frustrated and said I can do it myself,” said Moni Matush.
Alpine Inn has a unique menu. Its lunch menu features entrees from Wally’s native Swabia and Stuttgart such as schnitzel, bratwursts and spaetzle — a dish consisting of dumplings and Swiss cheese.
The restaurant closes at 2:30 p.m. so that staff can prepare for dinner, which only consists of two options: either a six-ounce or nine-ounce filet mignon — both wrapped in bacon — served with a baked potato, Texas toast and a quarter wedge of lettuce served with ranch dressing or “kaes spaetzle primavera” served with a vegetable and Texas toast.
The inspiration for the unique dinner options came from a friend in Huron, Wally Matush said.
“He had met my mom and said ‘Hey, Wally. This would probably go super good here. Why don’t you try it out here?’” Moni Matush said. “And so she said ‘Okay, I’ll try it out.’ She wanted to make it her own a little bit, so she decided that she would give them a wedge of lettuce first and then the meal, and she wanted to have a bunch of desserts on the menu.”
While the Alpine Inn is a Hill City mainstay to this day, there were many doubters out there when she first opened the restaurant, Wally Matush said.
It started slow, she said, but, after time, it got progressively busier.
It seemed like every couple of years she needed to do an expansion, Moni Matush said, which is how the restaurant took over the first floor of the building.
“At the beginning I had a bed and breakfast upstairs, and that was nice, too, because I enjoyed every minute of it,” Wally Matush said. “I love to do it. I still love to go in the back — but only three days now.”
In spite of the restaurant’s success, Moni Matush said her mother doesn’t like to take credit for what she has done with the business.
And Wally Matush said she never likes to dwell on it for too long.
Coming from a family that owned businesses, she was taught from an early age the higher you climb the easier it is to fall.
“It is OK,” she added. “I did my own thing and everybody else picked their own thing. I never had French fries or hamburgers. That is somebody else’s business. Mine is what you see right here.”
However, others in Hill City have noticed what the Alpine Inn has done.
A proclamation honoring Moni and Wally Matush was read during a Hill City Common Council meeting in March, drawing applause from those in attendance.
Janet Wetovick-Bily, Hill City Chamber of Commerce executive director, said the Alpine Inn is “one of Hill City’s celebrated features and one of the most popular destinations for our visitors.”
“We are so excited to recognize the hard work of Wally, Moni and their entire staff at this milestone anniversary,” Wetovick-Bily said. “The Alpine truly is known worldwide for its quality, consistency and hospitality. We are really proud to have them as one of our Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce partners, for their year-round presence, for all they do for our Hill City community, for the tourism industry and for Hill City’s reputation as a must-do stop whether you’re a local area resident, a visitor from New York or one of our guests from anywhere in the world.”
And the love felt for the Alpine Inn by the community is equally reciprocated on Wally Matush’s part.
She loves Hill City, she said, and always has.
And the Alpine Inn, with her daughter in charge, will be here to stay, she said.
“When I started, some people said that I will never make it,” Wally said. “When you hear negative things like that you think it’s going to happen one of these days, and then I thought to myself ‘No, it never will.’ And it won’t. It won’t. And Moni takes good care of it.”