EDGEWATER — When the Old Stein Inn burned down last New Year’s Eve, owner Mike Selinger watched 28 years of his life go up in flames.
Selinger began working in the restaurant in 1983, the year his German-born parents opened the business inside an early 1900s A-frame cottage in Mayo. Karl and Ursula Selinger, who came to the United States in the 1950s, had always dreamed of opening a restaurant with authentic German cuisine, their son said.
And over the years, they amassed a loyal following of schnitzel lovers and beer drinkers, including some who made a point of celebrating every birthday and every anniversary there.
“It’s been a substantial meeting place for family and friends,” said Selinger, who purchased the business from his parents in 2003.
Business was better than ever, he said. Then the fire happened.
“People thought we were just going to close down,” Selinger said.
But he and his wife, Beth, knew that wasn’t an option. About two months after the blaze, they started to rebuild the restaurant. After about $700,000 in renovations, the Old Stein Inn is on track to be open at the end of next month.
“You go through that whole shock initially,” Beth Selinger said. “But the last six weeks, things have just exploded. There are a million decisions to make very day.”
Patrons seem to be eager. The Old Stein’s Facebook page has more than 1,600 fans, many of whom post every few days wanting to know when the restaurant will start serving up beer and brats again.
The Selingers said they wanted Old Stein Inn to be open in time for the popular Oktoberfest, which runs from Sept. 15 through early October. Nightly entertainment will begin in early September.
“In our minds, this is a clean palette for us,” Beth Selinger said.
Her husband smiled as he talked about “the new Old Stein,” which will feature oak and mahogany flourishes and authentic German decorations. The centerpiece, the Selingers say, is a 22-foot, 107-year-old bar from Carmine’s Restaurant in New York City.
The dining area, formerly split up into three rooms, will be one big room beneath cathedral ceilings.
“We’re trying to keep the old school touch, but with a new modern facility,” Selinger said. “I’m looking forward to taking the 28 years that my parents put into this restaurant and renewing it.”
And with any luck, the Old Stein will be open another 28 years, he said.
The Selingers have hired German-born chef Jason Howard, whose specialty is cuisine made from local ingredients and premium meats. Entrees will range from $14 to $26, with happy hour and late night specials.
“That’s one of my staples, the farm-to-table thing,” Howard said. “I use a lot of fresh herbs, a lot of fresh ingredients. I want to bring a broader span of tastes when it comes to the German kitchen.”
The fresh food movement has been popular in Germany for years, Howard said.
“I really want the customers to taste each individual ingredient, instead of over-salting or anything like that,” he said.
Howard said he’s still finalizing the menu, but expects it to include plenty of schnitzel dishes and signature salads.
“I know Old Stein has a lot of regulars, and they are just dying for the place to reopen,” Howard said.
Old Stein is also known for its Biergarten behind the restaurant and its large selection of German beers, including 10 on tap. The growing popularity of craft beers boosted Old Stein’s profile in recent years, the Selingers said.
“Right now, beer is very in,” Beth Selinger said.
“Although we never thought it went out of style,” her husband added with a chuckle.
The restaurant is appealing to customers, the Selingers say, because it’s not part of a chain.
“I think a lot of it is, we’re not what everyone else is,” Beth Selinger said. “We’re not a cookie cutter business.”
A nurse, she’d never worked in the restaurant industry before meeting her husband.
“But it becomes part of your lifestyle,” she said. “It becomes part of who you are.”
Mike Selinger paused for a moment when considering what he likes best about running the Old Stein Inn.
“You get to meet people all day,” he said. “And working with beer and food . that beats sitting in an office.”