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Hofbrauhaus St. Petersburg hopes for June opening at former Tramor Cafeteria

Hofbrauhaus St. Petersburg owners Joe Matuschka and son Mike, both of Chicago, stand in the former Tramor on Jan. 29. The German beer hall, now undergoing renovation, is expected to open in June.
Published Feb. 19, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — If the new owners' vision of the historic Tramor Cafeteria comes true, 500 people will be up on their benches swigging beer made in Munich and singing Sweet Caroline by June. (The Neil Diamond hit is a staple in German beer gardens.)

Joe Matuschka and his son, Mike, are spending around $3 million to turn the 1920s Mediterranean revival-style cafeteria into Hofbrauhaus St. Petersburg. The German beer hall will have a bar almost the length of the building, communal tables and benches. All were custom-made in Austria. The bar will boast five serving stations, each with five beers on tap. And many of the hall's 75 employees will don traditional dirndls and lederhosen.

Guests will enter from the front of the building at 123 Fourth St. S. A gift shop will stock beer to go, steins and more.

After buying the 15,000-square-foot building in September for $2.7 million, the Matuschkas decided building a brewery there would take away from the historic architecture that already lent itself to the look and feel of an authentic beer house.

"To get all the equipment made and over here (from Germany) it would have taken a year longer," Joe Matuschka said.

At some point, the owners may build an addition in the adjacent parking lot to house a brewery.

The father-and-son team opened Hofbrauhaus Chicago two years ago and say the 2,800-seat restaurant has a two-hour wait most weekend nights for those without reservations. So they think the St. Petersburg site, about a quarter the size, will fill up as well.

"We're full of families, kids eat free on Tuesdays. We have a lot of older people from around noon to 8 p.m., then the younger crowd starts coming in," Mike Matuschka said.

The restaurants are based on the original Hofbrauhaus in Munich, which is owned by the state government. It issues franchise rights to investors who want to operate in other locations.

The company's first U.S. location was in Newport, Ky., with additional locations in Cleveland, Las Vegas and elsewhere.

After the success in Chicago, the Matuschkas decided to open another store in Florida's warm climate. Orlando seemed like the best spot, but after visiting the area they thought it too touristy.

"Miami is still on the radar," Joe Matuschka, a native of Mainz, Germany, said. "When we walked in (the Tramor) we knew we had a slam dunk."

Along with the arched alcoves, wooden railings and sky-blue ceiling painted with cotton candy clouds, the building boasts a large interior balcony perfect for the bands that play nightly. The musicians, who already perform at Hofbrauhaus Chicago, fly over from Germany or Austria each month. The Matuschkas have bought a condo on First Street NE to house them.

The Tramor first opened as Bob's Cafeteria in 1930, but was bought and renovated in grand style in 1939 by brothers Lander, Enar and Henry Haige. It was open only during the winter season at first. The Tampa Bay Times, then called the St. Petersburg Times, bought it in 1981 to use as an employee cafeteria. But it remained open to the public. The Times closed the cafeteria several years ago.

Hofbrauhaus will serve standard German fare such as schnitzel, sausages, Bavarian potato salad, sauerkraut, spaetzle, pretzels and strudel. The kids menu features hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and chicken tenders.

Contact Katherine Snow Smith at kssmith@tampabay.com. Follow @snowsmith.

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