Walter Staib (1946-)

Walter Staib is an internationally renowned chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, and hospitality consultant. A skilled self-promoter who is as comfortable in front of a television camera as in front of a stove, Staib is a regularly featured guest on local, national, and international television programs and specials.

Updated: November 24, 2014

Introduction

Walter Staib (born March 20, 1946 in Pforzheim, Germany) is an internationally renowned chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, and hospitality consultant.[1] A skilled self-promoter who is as comfortable in front of a television camera as in front of a stove, Staib is a regularly featured guest on local, national, and international television programs and specials. He hosts two award-winning culinary programs, A Taste of History and World Cuisine of the Black Forest, which are broadcast worldwide on public television and cable television networks and are also accessible via Internet media. Both shows are offshoots of his three best-selling cookbooks to date, including a children’s book, all highlighting his ethnic German heritage or his attentions to eighteenth-century colonial American cuisine. Staib has become his own brand, using elements of history and his own biography to promote different products and service ranges based on the idea of regional and traditional cuisines and the mastery of a chef.

Family and Ethnic Background

Born in the aftermath of World War II in the war-devastated town of Pforzheim, Germany, on March 20, 1946, Walter Staib is the first son of Herta Breuninger.[2] Located in the state of Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany, Pforzheim has been an important gateway to the Black Forest ever since its earliest days as a Roman military outpost.  Strategically situated at the intersection of three rivers—the Nagold, Enz, and Würm—it is a shipping and transit hub connecting to other cities such as Stuttgart and Karlsruhe. An important jewelry and watch-making center since 1767, Pforzheim has an international reputation for crafting quality merchandise. The city is sometimes referred to as the Golden City (Goldstadt).[3]

During World War II the Pforzheim industry focused on manufacturing instruments for the Wehrmacht and on producing many types of weaponry, mainly for the air force. As a manufacturing and transportation center for the German war effort, the town was heavily bombarded a number of times. A February 1945 bombing mission by the British Royal Air Force was especially destructive, killing more than seventeen thousand people and destroying more than 80 percent of the buildings and industries.[4] Like most residents of the town, the Breuninger family suffered losses and traumatic injuries. In recent interviews, Walter Staib relates that some family members were killed and one of his mother's sisters lost limbs. The family also lost its home after the military raids, later taking shelter in a church when the French and American armies occupied the town immediately after the war. Staib recounts how his family deployed their food management expertise to the Allies, helping to set up and manage camp canteens for German citizens made homeless by the war.[5]

In the late 1940s, Herta Breuninger married Emil Staib, who adopted Walter. The couple had two more children, Peter and Elsbeth. Also in those early years, Herta’s sister Ruth, Staib’s aunt, married Walter Eberle, whose family owned the popular restaurant and inn Gasthaus zum Buckenberg in Pforzheim. Walter's family was part of a close-knit, self-reliant community. His relatives included cousins and grandparents who all lived together in the same house behind the inn and restaurant. They raised their own livestock and had large gardens and orchards nearby that grew much of what the family needed and also supplied the inn.[6] According to Staib, the entire family, on both sides, had a reputation for great culinary prowess and convivial hospitality. Staib relates that his mother and grandmother, Karoline Breuninger, were particularly skilled as cooks, bakers, and gardeners.[7] He presents his relatives as part of a story many gourmands would like to hear: His maternal grandfather, Ernst Breuninger, a descendent from early Huguenots who immigrated to the Black Forest, was a well-known bon vivant and epicure.  A family uncle, Karl Hintze, a master confissier (confectioner) and master pâttisier (pastry chef) in Pforzheim at the Café Frei and at the Café Wagner, educated his nephew in culinary technique from an early age.

As Staib tells it, he soon started spending most of his time in the Gasthaus kitchen with his aunt Ruth and uncle Walter as a young boy. His uncle worked mostly in the butcher shop, while his aunt handled most of the kitchen cooking and created the menus for the restaurant. Walter says that by the age of four he started doing odd jobs, like peeling onions and garlic, and eventually became familiar with every aspect of running a restaurant and hotel business. He claims that he knew early on that his life would revolve around food and credits his mother, aunt Ruth and uncles Walter and Karl for instilling in him a “lifelong passion for the culinary arts.”[8]  

After finishing eighth grade at the Buckenberg School in Pforzheim in 1960, the fourteen-year-old Walter was accepted into an apprenticeship at the esteemed Hotel Alte Post in Nagold, Germany. This is where his formal training as a culinary expert began. The historic hotel is a half-timbered building (Fachwerkhaus) that dates from 1697 and is closely connected with the history of Nagold’s economy after the Thirty Years’ War. Built at the gates of the medieval city, the “old post office” was conveniently located on the major coach service routes to France and Switzerland. Over the years, it played host to world travelers passing through, including kings and generals, such as King Frederick of Württemberg.[9] Staib would later feature the picturesque building in his television series and cookbook, Black Forest Cuisine.

In popular culture, the Black Forest is often presented as an intact world of peasantry and nature—an image that was already being advertised by the tourist industry around 1900. The Nazis presented the Black Forest as a region of Aryan tradition and healthy Germans. Today’s romantic vision of the Black Forest is, however, strongly shaped by the German Heimatfilm genre of the early 1950s. With sixteen million viewers, “Schwarzwaldmädel” (1950) was one of the most successful German movies ever. Staib is still benefitting from the iconography and the myths of films like this, or “Wintersonne” (1949), “Heimat, die uns blieb” (1949), “Wintersonne über dem Schwarzwald” (1950), or “Schwarzwaldmelodie” (1956). These sentimental products served to strengthen the constructs of Heimat (homeland) and identity in the changing postwar world. They idealized the hard work of an impoverished local population in a region of infertile land and only a small variety of local agricultural products. More recently, in the 1980s, one of Germany’s most successful TV series, “Die Schwarzwaldklinik,” was shot at more than thirty locations in and near the Black Forest.[10]  

Like the family inn where Staib first honed his culinary skills, the Hotel Alte Post was largely self-sufficient and demanded many hours from its kitchen staff. Typical of classically-run kitchens, the staff worked double shifts six days a week. They butchered their own meats, made their own sausages, and tended the smoke house. Desserts were prepared from scratch in a separate pastry kitchen. The Hotel Post had its own orchards. On occasion the apprentices had to give up their precious days off to harvest ripe produce from the fields or gardens. Staib remembers making pickles and preserves and their own eau-de-vie from the bounty of the farm and orchard.[11] During the first year of his apprenticeship, there was literally no room at the inn’s staff quarters for Staib so he rented a room across the street from the hotel. This proved to be to his advantage: the locals heard about his prowess as a butcher and he began moonlighting on the side. Young Staib was particularly adept at dressing game meats.[12] 

Because of his early exposure to the food business, Walter stood out among his classmates during his three years at the Hotel Alte Post. In 1963 he graduated from the culinary academy and received his chef's certificate (Gehilfenbrief). With this vocational certificate he was a state-approved, licensed chef and could work anywhere in Europe. He was seventeen years old.

Early Professional Life

Restless, and not eager to park himself in any one place, Walter decided to travel and gain valuable experience by working in various hotels and restaurants throughout Europe. This was a good time for traveling, as the hotel business began changing rapidly from the 1950s. In Germany, and even earlier in the tourist destinations of the Alps region, hotel chains emerged and started to dominate first local, then regional markets. Southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland were core regions for the expansion of branded hotel chains, mainly of American origin. While such hotels focused mainly on upper class guests in the 1960s, they became more accessible to the middle class in the 1970s. Changes in income and transportation options  pushed this development. International companies created hotel brands like Hilton, InterContinental, Marriott, Accor, and many others that offered a high-quality package of superior service, entertainment, and a standardized international cuisine all over the (Western) world. Walter Staib’s career mirrors the deep changes in the hospitality business—and even his decision to eventually establish his own consulting business is typical for the growing crisis of these standardized hotel products from the 1980s onward.

One of the first places Staib explored was the Sommerberg Hotel in Bad Wildbad, a luxurious summer resort hotel. Walter worked there as commis saucier (assistant soup chef) from May 1963 to October 1964, refining his culinary technique. He found seasonal employment at the Hostellerie Chesery in Gstaad, Switzerland, spending four winters at the legendary ski resort. The hotel was owned by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and catered to a wealthy roster of socialites, Hollywood film stars, and the like. As the chef de grille, stationed in the dining room preparing dishes to order in full view of the guests, the affable, multilingual Walter easily developed a rapport with the glamorous set. In the summer months he worked at the Hotel Belvedere in Interlaken, Switzerland, where he catered to a similar clientele.[13]

In 1967, he took a position as sous-chef at the four-star Casa Berno on Lago Maggiore in Ascona, Switzerland, a luxury resort near the Italian border. While in Switzerland he also worked as chef de cuisine at Beau-Rivage in Neuchâtel. It was while stationed here that he was recruited to work in the United States. Ever restless and seeing an opportunity to travel to another country, and with a one-year job contract in hand, he planned to return to Germany afterwards to take over the family business in Pforzheim.[14]

It was 1969, and Staib came to the United States with the prospect of working at Chicago's exclusive, private Mid-America Club. Founded in 1958 and today located in the city’s third tallest building on the eightieth floor, the club bills itself as an “inspired setting for Chicago’s most influential civic and business leaders” that provides “countless advantages to personal and professional enrichment.”[15] During Staib's tenure there the American-owned kitchen was French run; the dining room managed by Germans and Swiss. Mid-America wanted only the highest-caliber trained personnel staffing its operations. At just twenty-three years of age, Staib was the youngest chef to ever take on such a responsible position at the prestigious club.[16] His plans to return to Germany were thwarted when he met his future wife Gloria, a Nicaraguan immigrant. They married and stayed in Chicago, with Staib holding several key positions at the Mid-America Club over the next four years. He began his early rapport with the media, appearing in interviews and doing food demonstrations on local television programs and elsewhere.

In 1972 Staib accepted an offer to take over as executive chef in the highest-volume Hyatt Regency in the United States based, at the time, in Atlanta, Georgia. He would continue to appear on television, showcasing his culinary talents, and had his own weekly newspaper column. During this time, Staib's two children were born: his son Patrick in 1973 and his daughter Elizabeth in 1975. Staib became an American citizen in 1974. His wife was already a naturalized citizen, and he knew that to pursue his career aspirations in the United States it made good business sense to apply for citizenship.[17]

Four years after coming to Atlanta, Staib was presented with an opportunity for a first-time venture that took him and his family to Brazil for a special project sponsored by that country’s government in collaboration with Hyatt. Headquartered in Sao Paulo, Staib would spend more than a year starting up five-star hotel resorts in the underdeveloped Northeast of Brazil. It was a rigorous assignment. The plan was to create a prototype of what future hotels in the region could become. The job required someone with European technique and the sophistication to know what a five-star hotel was, someone with good language skills, as well as someone who wouldn't be overwhelmed by the demands of a start-up operation, says Staib.[18] His colleague, Bill Stowell, general manager of Hyatt in Puerto Rico, had set up the assignment with the Brazilian government. As director of operations for the proposed hotel project, Stowell wanted Staib to handle all the food and beverage functions. Staib was intrigued by the challenge. The hotel operation would need to be completely self-sufficient. Toward that end, Staib relates, they even set up their own chicken farms and utilities.[19] Conditions in Brazil were tough, however, and after one of the Staib children contracted malaria, the family returned to Atlanta in 1977.

Over the next decade, several prestigious positions followed. Staib received a call from Dunfey Hotels, a family-owned hotel group based in New Hampshire. It had once been owned by Aetna Life Insurance Company and was sold to Aer Lingus in 1976. Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline, aggressively purchased a number of international hotel concerns in the mid-1970s. When the Dunfey family orchestrated the sale of the business from Aetna to Aer Lingus, the Dunfey chain went international, with hotels in Paris, London, and Ireland. As it did with Aetna, the Dunfey family continued to manage the hotel business for Aer Lingus.[20] Staib was recruited to handle all the food and beverage operations for Dunfey’s four-star European hotels, such as the Commodore in Paris, the Tara Hotel in Kensington, London, and the Park Lane Hotel in Picadilly Square, London. In 1979, Staib was lured away to become president of Davre's, the luxury restaurant brand owned by ARA Leisure Services based in Philadelphia. Originally known as Automatic Retailers of America, the former corporate vending services firm had expanded into other markets by buying up hotels, resorts, and various leisure enterprises to add to its ever-growing portfolio.[21] Staib introduced new dining concepts and managed food and beverage functions at high-end properties such as the Carnelian in San Francisco, Signature Restaurants in Hartford, and America Restaurant in Kansas City. He says he worked with many Michelin two- and three-star chefs at these locations.[22] By 1982, after catering the Saratoga races in New York State for ARA, Staib, who had kept in touch with Dunfey’s over the years, rejoined the hotel group. Not long after, in 1983, Dunfey Hotels acquired OMNI International Hotels and Aer Lingus renamed the company OMNI Hotels.[23] As senior vice president of food and beverage operations, Staib was responsible for opening numerous four- and five-star hotels, resorts, and restaurants throughout the United States.

New Directions and Brand Development

Staib’s work—setting up concept restaurants all over the United States—made him realize that there weren’t many professional restaurant consultants on the scene. He thus decided to go into business for himself and take advantage of this niche market.[24] Concepts By Staib, Ltd. was born in 1989. Setting up turnkey operations became Staib’s specialty. Concept services range from redoing menus and upgrading wine lists to a major overhaul of staffing; from training employees, redesigning kitchens and dining rooms, and putting together merchandizing plans and purchasing directives to assisting with marketing and public relations. For example, for a project for Sandals & Beaches Resorts International, Staib developed a multi-million dollar commissary kitchen, complete with butcher shop with smoking capabilities, a cook-chill operation for sauces and soups, a bakery with patisserie, a chocolate shop, and a bagel and doughnut operation.[25]

Staib’s company has since conceptualized and implemented both free-standing and hotel restaurants all over the world with clients such as Benchmark Hospitality, Sentry Hospitality, Victoria Cruises, OMNI Hotels, Sandals/Beaches Resorts, Regent International Hotels, Radisson hotels worldwide, Outrigger Lodging Services, Paramount Communication, Holiday Inn Worldwide, Crown Plaza Worldwide, the Kahler Hotel, Boykin Management Group, and Don Shula’s Steakhouses. Staib estimates that in just the past ten years, he has conceptualized and implemented more than four hundred and fifty restaurants worldwide.

After a number of very successful years on his own, Staib went looking for a property to create his own workshop operation[26] from which to expand his consulting business. In 1992 he learned that Philadelphia’s City Tavern, a reincarnation of the fabled colonial-era restaurant located at 138 South 2nd Street in Philadelphia, closed down that New Year’s Eve. It had at one time been patronized by America’s founding fathers, was demolished in 1854, and faithfully rebuilt by the National Park Service for the country’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976.[27] Over the years, various operators failed to make a go of the restaurant, hampered in part by a fickle, seasonal tourist economy. Still, Staib was interested. He reviewed the National Park Service’s Request For Proposal and was intrigued by the extensive back story about the tavern’s earliest days.

He was fascinated by the historical details, particularly about the original Tavern’s patrons—a who’s who of colonial America—and the food and drink served in the colonial era; he recognized culinary traditions he had grown up with in Germany and other countries in Europe. He applied for Congressional approval to become the Tavern’s next operator and was awarded the contract in April 1994. Staib and his wife Gloria,[28] operating solo with no outside business partners, would invest about half a million dollars of their own money plus some loans in refurbishing the restaurant.[29] They wanted to recreate the culinary heritage of City Tavern into an authentic living history experience for patrons and into a thriving business. To get the details right, Staib worked closely with National Park Service’s chief curator, Karie Diethorn, recreating the restaurant’s signature tableware, linens, furnishings, and paint colors. Even his staff’s uniforms of colonial-style garb were custom made.

His first executive chef at the City Tavern was then twenty-nine-year-old Derek Banks,[30] a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Staib and Banks had worked together at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, where they both knew former Governor William J. Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Banks also catered Clinton’s 1993 presidential election night party for 20,000 people in Little Rock.[31] At the new Tavern, Staib and Banks created a menu that reflected the foods and tastes of the times, such as West Indian Pepper Pot Soup, smoked meat and fish, meat pies and the like. A few years earlier, as a consultant to a restaurant of the same period in Richmond, Virginia, Staib had  researched colonial culinary and dining traditions with New York-based food historian Lorna Sass—knowledge that now came in handy. [32]  

Because of Staib’s insistence on replicating the standards and conditions of the colonial era, the new restaurant didn’t have freezers. Staib was also an early proponent of the farm-to-fork movement, negotiating with local purveyors and growers to provide meats and produce for the restaurant. Local brewers recreated period beers and ales. After spending four hectic months rebuilding the basement kitchens, the Staibs reopened the City Tavern on July 4, 1994.

A master at public relations, he soon focused his energies on promoting the new and improved City Tavern to a skeptical public, familiar only with the previous failed regimes at the restaurant. Despite all the positive fanfare, Staib’s first five years at City Tavern weren’t profitable, he says, but public acclaim kept building.[33] The never-camera-shy Staib maintained regular guest visits on television and at public events where he could demonstrate his culinary acumen and tout the restaurant’s cuisine, sharing recipes and lore with a growing fan base. As a result, in 1996 Staib was made First Culinary Ambassador of the City of Philadelphia by then Mayor Ed Rendell, who, ten years later as governor, would also name Staib Culinary Ambassador of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.[34]

Although Staib created and authored hundreds of recipes for print and television audiences over the years, it wasn’t until 1999 that he published his first cookbook, the City Tavern Cookbook: 200 Years of Classic Recipes from America’s First Gourmet Restaurant. The cookbook was a terrific marketing strategy for the restaurant, yet another layer of brand activity that supported other efforts of the business. Subsequent books followed, including City Tavern Baking & Dessert Cookbook (2003); Black Forest Cuisine (2006), which is also a memoir of his early years growing up in Germany; City Tavern: Recipes from the Birthplace of American Cuisine (2009); an updating of Staib’s first two City Tavern cookbooks, published as a companion piece to Staib’s PBS TV series A Taste of History[35]; and, A Feast of Freedom (2010), a children’s book about the City Tavern. Meanwhile, two more cookbooks are in the works.

A Foray into Television

Already a natural in front of the camera, and with years of experience participating in television studio and on-site film shoots, Staib was ready to create his own show. In 2008, two years after publishing Black Forest Cuisine, Staib’s marketing director, Paul Bauer, who worked on Staib’s first cookbooks and other projects, negotiated Staib’s first cooking show series. World Cuisine of the Black Forest was filmed in Germany, often spotlighting favorite village and dining scenes from Staib’s early years as a child and young chef. It was a seventeen-part series handled by Philadelphia design and multimedia firm Hype413. The firm produces several culinary programs, including A Chef’s Kitchen, which also features Staib and other celebrity chefs.

World Cuisine of the Black Forest was well received and nominated for two local Emmy Awards that year. It must be noted, however, that the image Walter Staib presents of the Black Forest is highly romanticized and one-dimensional. Rather than daily dishes of the region he presents festive and exceptional cuisine, creating an aesthetic counter image to the realities of our daily food and the necessities of modern industrialized food.

Staib’s cooking show series is part of a larger trend in television. The first, very basic cooking shows emerged in the United States in the 1940s, featuring chefs like James Beard and others.[36] Since the 1950s, they have become standard. A good example is "The French Chef" featuring Julia Child, launched in 1963 on WGBH. Growing up in Germany, it is likely that Staib saw the broadcasts of Germany’s first TV cook Clemens Wilmenrod, “Bitte in zehn Minuten zu Tisch,” between 1953 and 1964.

A short time after World Cuisine of the Black Forest was launched, Ariel Schwartz of Multi Media Productions (MMP), which produces food-related media projects, was at a reception being catered by Staib when Paul Bauer approached him about producing another show series for Staib. The series A Taste of History was born. The first season of the show, broadcast on PBS in 2009, was another instant hit with the public and critics, winning three Mid-Atlantic Emmy Awards the following year, and another Emmy in 2011.[37] It continues to garner acclaim and is currently filming its fourth season for PBS. Like World Cuisine of the Black Forest, A Taste of History is also shot on location to provide historical context and authentic character for the series. Staib often demonstrates hearth cooking, for example, at the homestead kitchens of former American presidents at Monticello, Mt. Vernon, Montpelier, and Ash-Lawn Highland, as well as at historic house museums such as Rittenhouse Town and Colonial Williamsburg. One episode looks at the culinary traditions of early German immigrants.

Culinary lore and history is incorporated into all show episodes. America’s early economy was directly connected to the importance and influence of trade routes between Europe, the Caribbean and American colonies. Culinary traditions from the African continent, the West Indies, and Europe would all mesh and influence the cuisine and culture of cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore and southern American states. A Taste of History is frequently filmed at various locations in the Caribbean, including at Sandals Resorts, a Staib client and sponsor of the show.[38]

The highly-scheduled Staib still makes time for local media programming. He appears weekly on the Philadelphia area morning show Talk Philly on CBS-3 TV. He has been featured on several Food Network shows, including Iron Chef. As a culinary historian on eighteenth-century American cuisine, he has been interviewed and has cooked for numerous documentaries appearing on The History Channel, A&E, Discovery, and The Learning Channel (TLC).  He recently starred in an HBO documentary with historian David McCullough, who also wrote the foreword to his most recent City Tavern cookbook.[39]

The cookbooks and television shows were instrumental in retaining public interest during more difficult economic times and essential in protecting the Staib brand. Marketing efforts include offering a full line of specialty products that can be purchased online or at the City Tavern restaurant shop, such as cookbooks, DVDs of Staib’s shows, fruit shrubs (a popular fruit vinegar concentrate brought to America by English colonists), assorted sweet breads, City Tavern’s reproduction ceramic dinnerware and Pewtarex tableware, crystal glassware, herb meat sauces and rubs, and, of course, gift certificates.  

Gross receipts for retail (shop), beverage, and food sales for the City Tavern, as reported in an RFP provided by the National Park Service, have ranged from a little under $3 million in 2000 to a high of over $4 million in 2005. Profits slumped to $3.5 million in 2009. To balance a significant increase in operating costs, particularly in utility and food expenses since 2008, Staib says he shopped for new suppliers as well as negotiated better prices from existing vendors. He also took measures to reduce utility costs.[40]

Although many of Staib’s business interests are separate, his brand is often integrated with his other interests. For instance, Dietz & Watson, a Philadelphia-based, family-owned manufacturer of deli meats and cheeses, is Staib’s City Tavern vendor. It is a major sponsor for both World Cuisine of the Black Forest and A Taste of History, as well as for CBS Philly and other television opportunities featuring Staib, who is the company’s culinary ambassador. Sandals Resorts, another Staib client, is host and sponsor for A Taste of History. Staib’s brand is the lynchpin to these relationships.

Social Status and Personality

In his cookbooks and television shows, Staib makes frequent references to his proud Black Forest roots. His stewardship of the City Tavern provides him with many opportunities to give back to Philadelphia’s long established German-American community.

In the seventeenth century, Quakers and Mennonites, fleeing persecution in Europe, sought out liberal Quaker William Penn’s “Holy Experiment” in Pennsylvania. The first wave of these groups, thirteen families from Krefeld headed by Francis Daniel Pastorius, settled Germantown, an enclave in the northwest corner of Philadelphia, in 1683.[41] Subsequent migrations of Germans—the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch—pushed westward into Lancaster and Berks Counties, but large numbers of Germans would continue to settle in Philadelphia well into the twentieth century.[42]

To provide support and resources to the immigrants who made their way to America, the German Society of Pennsylvania was formed in 1764. It is the oldest German organization of its kind in the United States and currently has roughly one thousand members, about 85 percent of whom are from the surrounding tri-state area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware), says Hardy von Auenmueller, chairman of the board of directors for the German Society.[43] Walter Staib has been supporting the Society for more than fifteen years. He is the go-to person for fundraisers hosted by the German Society’s Women’s Auxiliary (Frauen-Hilfsverein der Deutschen Gesellschaft) which helps pay for college student scholarships and other German-American cultural programs, including grade school language classes, art and artifact restoration projects, and community support efforts.

A Staib colleague of more than twenty years is Barbara Afanassiev, president and co-founder of the German-American Chamber of Commerce in Philadelphia, whose mission is to facilitate trade between the United States and Germany. Staib also supports fundraisers and other business network opportunities for the Chamber.[44] As honorary consul of Germany in Philadelphia, Barbara Afanassiev nominated Staib for the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesverdienstkreuz), which he was awarded in April 2007 for his active involvement in promoting and cultivating relations between the United States and Germany. Staib has done this very effectively and in a unique way, she says, by marketing the culture and stories as well as the cuisine of Germany’s Black Forest region. The Order of Merit is a coveted award and “the highest tribute the Federal Republic of Germany can pay to individuals for services to the nation.”[45] Other prestigious awards that Staib has received include the Chevalier de l'Ordre du Mérite Agricole de la République Française and the Commandeur de l’Association Internationale des Maîtres Conseils en Gastronomie Française, each in recognition of his dedication to the advancement of the restaurant industry and the positive promotional image of France worldwide.

Furthermore, Staib’s philanthropic efforts include being the Healthy Hearts ambassador for the Deborah Heart Foundation. Sponsored by the local network station CBS 3, Staib hosts fundraisers and aids the Foundation’s brand by developing heart healthy recipes for its outreach programs. In addition, Staib has served as honorary chair for the National Kidney Foundation's Chefs & Clefs event. He contributes time, food, and money to various charities, including the March of Dimes Signature Chef's Auction, the YMCA, the American Red Cross, and the Alzheimer's Association. In 2007 Staib received the Cornerstone Humanitarian Award from the National Association of Restaurants for the state of Pennsylvania. 

Professionally Staib is affiliated with the Culinary Institute of America, the American Culinary Federation, Les Amis D’Escoffier, l’Ordre Mondial de Gourmet, and the American Express Restaurant Advisory Board, among others. He is a member of l’Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais, International Gold & Silver Plate Society, and Foodservice Consultants Society International. In 1987 he was honored as the first inductee into the Caribbean Culinary Hall of Fame in recognition of his pioneering work founding the Caribbean Culinary Federation. Most recently, he has been honored as the “2012 Distinguished German-American of the Year” by the German-American Heritage Foundation, an award “to provide national recognition for outstanding leadership and achievement by Americans of German-speaking ancestry in business, the arts, education, science, politics and society.”[46]

Conclusion

Staib’s story is an important one in that it captures the migration and movement of professionals with particular and desired skills to the U.S., and then to much of the rest of world. In the process, it documents the migration of ideas, knowledge, and aesthetics from Europe across the Atlantic—in this case as it relates to cuisine.

A descendant of three generations of chefs and innkeepers, German-born Walter Staib says he was sure of his life’s ambitions by age four. Indeed, in the introduction to one of his cookbooks, Black Forest Cuisine, there’s a picture of a very confident young Staib sporting a chef’s toque. Since his early teens, he has systematically parlayed his passion for the culinary arts throughout his professional life.

While the public may be familiar with Staib as the charismatic chef on television and owner of the City Tavern restaurant, that public is perhaps less aware of the extent of his hospitality consulting business. He established his flagship operation, Concepts by Staib, some twenty-three years ago, after years of working for some of the top hoteliers and resort developers in the world. Since then, he claims to have conceptualized and created more than four hundred and fifty restaurants in dozens of countries.

Throughout his career, Staib has spent much of his time on the road or in the air, meeting with clients and business associates from around the world. Even now, it’s not unusual for him to spend five days a week traveling, to be gone weeks at a time working on a complex consulting project in China, the Caribbean, or Europe, or else filming on location with a production crew for a new episode for one of his television series.

It was during one of these long overseas trips in 1992 that Staib read a prospectus regarding Philadelphia’s historic City Tavern. He began planning restoring the City Tavern’s reputation, harkening back to its early American traditions, reproducing period cuisine. However, rejuvenating the City Tavern became more than creating yet another concept restaurant. Before researching the history of the tavern, Staib says he had no idea of the richness of America’s culinary past, an emulsion of culinary influences from Europe, the Caribbean, and the African continent. Staib, the world traveler and food explorer, readily identified with this American heritage. And he made it his brand, successfully selling—if not entirely authentic eighteenth-century cuisine[47]—the idea of authenticity. He has become a storyteller of sorts in a field of tough business and competition, with his background as a chef being crucial for his credibility.

Staib’s story highlights the sometimes complicated relationship between entrepreneurs and history. His tremendous skill as an entrepreneur has in part rested on his ability to draw on history and collective memory to present the public a cuisine that offers them a “taste” of the historic past. Inevitably, such endeavors involve selling certain aspects of the past that raise interesting issues about the uses of history by entrepreneurs, and the difficulty of drawing sharp distinctions between an objective academic biography and the one skillfully constructed by the entrepreneur himself.

On June 11, 2012, the effervescent Walter Staib celebrated his forty-third anniversary in the United States at his Philadelphia restaurant. Perhaps no one is more amazed by this anniversary than Staib himself. He certainly had no intention of staying in the United States when he first arrived in Chicago. He became an accidental, albeit willing, American, settling here because business and family arrangements made it so. While his hard-driving style and quest for excellence would always assure him of success as a chef and entrepreneur, what he did not anticipate was connecting with American culture and history through food to the extent that he would become an expert on American cuisine. In his own way, Staib has created for himself an image, an enduring brand, that is as American as apple pie.

Notes

[1] Uwe Spiekermann and Jessica Csoma of the German Historical Institute contributed to this article.

[2] Walter Staib’s mother now lives in Frankfurt, not far from her daughter. His sister is a physician.

[3] See http://www.pforzheim.de/index.php?id=338 for more information (accessed November 30, 2012).

[4] According to a report of a February 23/24, 1945, RAF mission from the Royal Air Force Bomber Campaign Diary, “The marking and bombing, from only 8,000 ft, were particularly accurate and damage of a most severe nature was inflicted on Pforzheim. 1,825 tons of bombs were dropped in 22 minutes. The post-war British Bombing Survey Unit estimated that 83 per cent of the town's built-up area was destroyed, probably the greatest proportion in one raid during the war.” (accessed November 16, 2012).

[5] Walter Staib, interview by A. McKelvey, December 13, 2011.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Many years later Walter Staib would dedicate his first City Tavern Cookbook “to the memory of my grandparents, Ernst and Karoline, from whom I learned my true and lifelong passion for food.”

[8] “German Entrepreneurial Spirit in the United States: Walter Staib,” German American Trade Magazine 19 (June 2011), 23. Such statements of predetermination can often be found in the autobiographical narratives of successful businessmen.

[11] Walter Staib, interview by A. McKelvey, December 13, 2011.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Concepts By Staib. Ltd., press kit information (accessed November 30, 2012).

[14] Walter Staib, interview by A. McKelvey, December 13, 2011.

[16] Walter Staib, interview by A. McKelvey, December 13, 2011.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Hampton, a Century of Town and Beach, 1888-1988, Chapter 15, Part 12 (accessed November 30, 2012).

[21] Aramark, History. (accessed November 30, 2012).

[22] Concepts By Staib, Ltd., press kit information

[23] See History of OMNI Hotels Corporation, (accessed November 30, 2012).

[24] Walter Staib, interview by A. McKelvey, December 13, 2011.

[25] “Meeting the FCSI Management Consultants,” Nation’s Restaurant News, September 26, 2005.

[26] City Tavern kitchens are Staib’s laboratory where he tests recipes for his cookbooks and creates food concepts for clients. He also conducts on-site training here. For instance, China’s Victoria Cruise Lines wanted to introduce more Western-based foods on its menu to appeal to their non-Asian clientele. Staib held tastings at his restaurant in Philadelphia so employees of the cruise line could sample the restaurant’s fare. In turn, his pastry chef spent a month in China training the chefs on all six of the cruise line ships.  

[27] Modern restaurants emerged in France in the late eighteenth century, but in the United States they were not of significant importance before the mid-nineteenth century.

[28] Gloria Staib is Treasurer of Concepts by Staib. When Walter is out of town, Gloria manages the restaurant and business operations.

[29] Published reports differ about how much Staib invested—$300,000 to $500,000—to authentically renovate the restaurant. Phyllis Stein Novack,Tavern Took Green: Restoring Site Was 300G Effort,” Philadelphia Daily News, June 29, 1994  (accessed December 11, 2012). Florence Fabricant, “Dining as the Nation’s Founders Did,” New York Times, June 29, 1994. (accessed December 11, 2012).

[30] Fabricant,Dining as the Nation’s Founders Did.”

[31] John Ferrell, Mary Mac’s Tea Room (Kansas City: Andrews McNeel Publishing, 2010) 122.

[32] Walter Staib and Beth D’Addono, City Tavern Cookbook: 200 Years of Classic Recipes from America’s First Gourmet Restaurant (Philadelphia: Running Press Publishers, 1999) 9.

[33] Walter Staib, interview by A. McKelvey, December 13, 2011.

[34] Concepts by Staib, Ltd, press kit information.

[35] Like World Cuisine of the Black Forest, A Taste of History was originally slated for CN8, a cable television show of the Comcast Network based out of Philadelphia, CN8 was discontinued in 2009 during a restructuring and the network split off to become Comcast SportsNet or CSN. See, http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-14/1227330938185160.xml&coll=1 (accessed December 11, 2012).

[36] Almost all these programs were promotional spots for food and homemaker sponsors.

[37] The Mid-Atlantic Emmy Awards are a division of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) (accessed December 11, 2012).

[38] Staib is a big fan of Jamaican cuisine, see http://www.torontosun.com/2011/12/07/spice-it-up-in-jamaica (accessed November 30, 2012).

[39] Concepts By Staib, Ltd. press kit information.

[40]Restaurants Serving Up Survival,” Philadelphia Business Journal, November 10, 2008. (accessed December 11, 2012).

[41] The founding of Germantown is remembered annually as German-American Day, observed on October 6.

[42] While the number of German-born residents of Philadelphia County reached its peak in 1890, at 74,971 (roughly 7 percent of the population), the numbers declined steadily, reaching 4,770 (less than 0.5 percent of the population) a century later around the time that Walter Staib settled there. The New York Times Immigration Explorer (accessed December 11, 2012).

[43] Hardy von Auenmueller, German Society of Pennsylvania, interview by A. McKelvey, January 2012.

[44] Barbara Afanassiev, interview by A. McKelvey, January 2012. Barbara Afanassiev resigned as president of the German-American Chamber of Commerce in Philadelphia in February 2013.

[46] German-American Heritage Foundation press release, November 6, 2012.

[47] In the introduction to his cookbooks, Staib concedes that by necessity the recipes have been adapted to accommodate modern tastes and ingredients.

 

Cite this Entry

APA Style

"Walter Staib." (2018) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Retrieved May 27, 2018, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship: http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=145

Chicago Style

McKelvey, Anita. "Walter Staib." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 5, edited by R. Daniel Wadhwani. German Historical Institute. Last modified November 24, 2014. http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=145

MLA Style

"Walter Staib," Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 2018, Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 27 May 2018 <http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=145>

Walter Staib at Christino’s, Atlanta, GA, 1997

  • Walter Staib leading a cooking class, Pforzheim, 1968
  • Walter Staib as chef de grille at the Chesery ski resort and hotel in Gstaad, Switzerland, 1965
  • Walter Staib in Lederhosen, Pforzheim, Germany, 1952
  • Walter Staib presents Hillary Rodham Clinton with a cake replica of the White House

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