Once upon a time, in the German mountains, there lived a girl name Resi. After losing her beloved fiancé, Florian, Resi retreated to an isolated cabin and dedicated her time to looking after the travelers that passed by, thus trying to heal her broken heart. Her hospitality became known far and wide, with locals who felt spoiled, loved and completely at home saying, “It’s just as lovely here as it is at Almresi.”
So begins the story of Almresi, a legend in Bavaria and the inspiration behind the new restaurant in Vail Village. An evening here almost feels as if you’ve been immersed in a fairy tale, from the rustic cabin decor to the almost magical warmth and comfort that emanates from the staff and the cuisine. But it’s not magic: The story behind Almresi Vail is firmly rooted in hard work, dedication
A Family Affair
Almresi opened in December 2016 in the building at the top of Bridge Street in Vail Village. And, while the Thoma family originally hails from Germany’s Black Forest region, the ties to Vail are strong. Franz Thoma lived and worked in Vail in the 1980s, but his kids think that it was always a secret plan to open a restaurant here, even after moving back to Germany.
“It didn’t work out when he was our age,” explains daughter Alyssa.
“They said, ‘America is not going to change for you,’” continues son Josh. “He said, ‘Oh, I’m coming back, just wait.’”
After a long career in restaurants in Germany, the Thomas own and operate two restaurants in Germany and their dream to open a restaurant in Vail has come true. It seems like it was meant to be, Alyssa says, like everything fell into place. She worked at the Sonnenalp for two years and had no plans to stay in Vail (like so many other Vail transplants). However, she explained that when you work in a restaurant, you’re always looking at other restaurants. One space fell through, but when they saw the former Tap Room space recently vacated by Solantro, they thought, “We can do something with this.”
“It was really back and forth, but the gut feeling was right,” Alyssa says. “Then our mom saw it and she’s really the boss. When she says it’s fine, we go with it.” Since Alyssa was already in the United States, she agreed to manage the restaurant. Josh, who had been living and studying in Barcelona, soon joined her in running the operation, with direction from their parents. The two complement each other, providing varying viewpoints and perspectives.
“We know each other really well,” Josh says. “We’ve worked all our lives with our parents together in our restaurants, so we know the perspectives of our parents and their expectations of quality. We’re always looking to be better, better, better.”
A Cabin in the Woods
The family ties continue in the look and feel of the restaurant. Gone are any traces of past restaurants, swept into the clean mountain air like so many ghosts. Diana Thoma designed the interior of the space, with the assistance of Minturn-based Arrigoni Woods, creating a welcoming feel without an overload of mountain or country kitsch. Alyssa said that the relationship was natural: owner Balz Arrigoni is from Switzerland and she said that he understood right away they wanted to do.
“He knows exactly the feeling of a traditional ‘Almhütte’ and how important wood is, to bring this special feeling of coziness over,” Alyssa says.
The walls, ceiling and beams are covered in rustic wood panels reclaimed from farms in Austria and Germany before being shipped to and installed here in Vail. The result is a warm and welcoming feeling, much like you’d find in a mountain hut in the Alps. It’s very different from the Thoma’s other restaurants in Germany, which are at pool resort and see upwards of 3,000 visitors on a nice day, but it’s perfect for this space.
There are various seating arrangements designed to accommodate almost any size of party, from small and intimate nooks to a large communal table, crowned by a large light fixture festooned with authentic Austrian cowbells. Faux fur throws, cow hides and small stools reaffirm the feeling that you’re visiting a mountain chalet. Almost everything comes from Austria or Germany, carefully chosen with Diana’s impeccable eye.
“She always puts a bunch of love into every single thing,” Alyssa says. “We want to give this love to other people.” With the German music providing a background to the various conversations floating throughout the space, Almresi truly feels as if you’ve walked into a friend’s mountain home. This friend, though, can cook.
The Flavors of Almresi
Vail is a Bavarian-inspired village, with several European restaurants already in operation. However, rather than being viewed as competition, Alyssa and Josh say that they’ve been welcomed by restaurateurs and businesses in town. “In Germany, people are not as nice to each other because they see each other as competition,” Alyssa says. “Here, we’re seen as an addition.”
As every restaurant has a different focus and feel, so Almresi fits in nicely in Vail’s dining scene. Featuring not just German fare but also Austrian and Swiss flavors, Almresi’s menu is thoughtful and concise. Alyssa and Josh said that they and Chef Daniel Schleehauf tested everything at home in Germany; if it passed muster there, then it’s considered for the menu here.
“We fixed a menu before the (previous) season started and tried a lot of things,” Schleehauf says. “Then we decided which dishes to feature.”
Chef Schleehauf is family, too—though not by blood. He grew up with Alyssa and Josh and the relationship is evident as the three tease each other and finish each other’s sentences. After attending culinary school, he was brought into the Vail restaurant, contributing a soft-spoken balance to the kitchen.
The summer saw lighter dishes added to the menu, like the flammkuchen, a type of German flatbread from the Alsatian region, near where the Thomas are from. The oven used to bake this treat is also imported to provide just the right temperature and resulting flavor. Alyssa said that it’s so good that everyone should try it once; after one bite, you’re sure to agree. You’ll get your chance; a version will appear on the winter menu. “It’s food for your heart,” Josh says. Though some dishes may be new this winter season, there are some items that are emphatically staying, due to popular demand like the schweinshax’n, a pork shank with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes; schmorbraten, which are short ribs with shallots, red cabbage and spätzle and schweizer rösti, a Swiss rösti with homemade farmer cheese with fresh herbs and smoked salmon.
Even dishes that may have seemed a bit exotic, like the griebenschmalz, a bread made with pork, have been firmly entrenched in the minds, hearts and palates of guests.
You’ll not worry about leaving hungry at Almresi: the portions are substantial. However, it’s worth planning your meal to account for dessert, like the original Austrian kaiserschmarr, a fluffy pancake, ripped into little pieces, with caramelized, powder sugar on top and a cherry compote on the side.
After all, “Every great dinner should end with a little dessert,” Alyssa says. So this season, make plans to visit the Black Forest cabin in Vail. Pick an intimate table for two or slide into a seat at the family table, ready to make some new friends. No matter what you choose, you’ll end the evening feeling satiated in both soul and stomach, tapping your foot to the jaunty strains of German music that float through the night.