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Posted on Thu, Jul 15, 2010 : 6:30 a.m.

There is no place like Metzger's German Restaurant

By Jessica Levine


Wilhelm Metzger standing in front of Metzger's German Restaurant.

Photo courtesy of John Metzger

O Schwarzwald, alte Heimat, wie bist du so schön.

O Black Forest, our Home, you are so beautiful.

1923. Wilhelm Metzger left home—home, Bavaria’s phantom firs and cider presses—for a new life in Ann Arbor. He brought with him a Teutonic work ethic and a penchant for cooking good, rib-busting food and warm beer. He also brought his family, and with them established a restaurant that, 82 years later, embraces the same Bavarian values. Home became Metzger’s German Restaurant, a scrubbed counter, and plates of sauerbraten, rouladen and cucumber salads. But, no matter the place, home always meant family.

It still does. Just ask John.

John Metzger, Wilhelm’s grandson, currently runs what he says is the oldest family restaurant in Ann Arbor, now located on Zeeb Road. He began working at the original restaurant on East Washington when he was 10.

“I have two sisters and a brother, and we all worked in the restaurant when we were growing up,” said Metzger. “We worked as kids, and through high school and college. It was always a family restaurant and a family operation.”

That is how they have always wanted it. In 1928, Wilhelm opened Metzger’s to a primarily German clientele. Business was good despite the long, dry years during Prohibition and the Great Depression. When other restaurants had no choice but to pack up and board up, Metzger’s prevailed.

Wilhelm, along with his brothers, Fritz and Gottfried, worked hard to bring the feeling of home to Ann Arbor. Fritz opened the Old German restaurant next door to Metzger’s and right down the street was Gottfried’s Deluxe Bakery. Together, the Metzger family dug out a watering hole for German landsleute to roll up their sleeves, swig warm pilsners and bat around the old days of the old country.

With time, the word got out. When John began working behind the bar washing glasses in 1969—just as his dad, Walter, had in the 1940s—more people, German and non-German, began to seek out the restaurant’s kraut, brats and beers. The restaurant continued to grow in popularity and eventually developed a following of families and couples, of university students and staff—fiercely loyal to Metzger’s family and food.


Jessica Levine I Contributor

John attributes his long-standing customer base to his restaurant’s consistency in staff and food. When your server knows your “usual”—say sauerbraten, light on the gravy, spatzen, and a slice of Black Forest cherry torte—you get to know people.

“We try to keep our employees a long time,” said Metzger. “Customers really notice that because they get to know our servers, our cooks and our bartenders.”

In 1999, their loyalty was put to the test. When the parking lot across the street from the Washington Street restaurant was closed for three years, Metzger’s business declined and John had to make one of the hardest choices of his adult life.

“We weren’t sure if we were going to reopen or not. But, I had it in the back of mind that we had to do something,” he said. “It was a tough decision to make. But, we had to do something.”

In 2000, John and his sister, Heidi, opened the current Zeeb Road location. It was, John admitted, a risky business decision.

And, it was worth it. The Metzger’s received scores of e-mails and letters upon the restaurant’s reopening and, being more centrally located to Dexter, Jackson, Chelsea and Manchester, Metzger’s began attracting new customers.

Customers like the Levines. My family, hooked on my grandmother June’s cucumber salad recipe (cucumber and onion pulverized by a mix of cider vinegar and sugar), hoofed it from Canton to give this restaurant a whirl. We weren’t disappointed. For Mom, Metzger’s is familiar. It is her mom, standing in the kitchen over a pressure cooker and cutting board in their Westland ranch.

“Here, everybody feels like family,” said Metzger. “That’s the kind of atmosphere that we want.”

John’s nephew, Ryan, runs the restaurant’s kitchen and is most likely next in line for taking over the family business. But, until then, John is in this for the long haul.

“I’m going to be here until the 100th anniversary,” he said.

Walter’s eating at the bar. Family photos, posters of the Rhine, and shelves of beer steins line the walls. A cuckoo-clock blasts out of its hand-carved doors, chiming in the Friday night dinner rush. You’re filled up with meat, potatoes and vinegar to bursting, and realize, then, warm and comfortable, that this is home. This is the Metzger’s home. And, that is just how Wilhelm would have wanted it.

Jessica Levine profiles the culture and history of Washtenaw County restaurants for Contact her at



Mon, Jul 19, 2010 : 8:49 p.m.

I have been going there since I was a kid, fond memories and great food. I love the schnitzel, the German potato salad and the cucumber salad. @ little bird, it is also known as spatzen,thta is what myu grandmother called her's, and it is very good. Hard to find anywhere else in town except out at German park. The Walkers are to be commended for their efforts out there.


Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 5:54 a.m.

One of the best restaurants anywhere! The food is exceptionally good, the service always superb, and the noise level is always low. Too many restaurants have no clue what music to play or at what sound level, some having it so high that conversation is impossible. At the Old German the music selection is correct and the staff is always sensitive and willing to do anything to please. John Metzger seemingly knows what the customer wants without waiting to be asked.


Fri, Jul 16, 2010 : 4:16 p.m.

Eating at Metzger's is like going back to my childhood with my mom's great 2nd generation German cooking. Love that place!


Fri, Jul 16, 2010 : 7:18 a.m.

Family restaurant indeed! When my husband started work there in 1973 I was astonished when he told me what his pay and benefits would be. When I asked if he was serious, he said, "Walter knows the value of family." Alas cancer took my husband less than a year later. But Metzgers remained "family" to us. My son worked there in high school and now my grandson works there. Oh, and the food and service are top-notch too!

little bird

Thu, Jul 15, 2010 : 2:21 p.m.

The sptzle is to die for, despite the uninformed waitress pronouncing it "spots-lay" (we didn't know what she was talking about until we figured it out and had a giggle). One of my favorite Ann Arbor spots. So glad they re-opened! You'll always have fans!


Thu, Jul 15, 2010 : 10:52 a.m.

best sausages!!


Thu, Jul 15, 2010 : 6:17 a.m.

Class act, the Metzger's are! Try the rouladen, the best around:)