Spokane Journal of Business

Serving up wursts and Gruyere

Alpine Deli

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Good luck trying to find a parking spot at Alpine Deli during the noon hour, when hungry patrons converge to devour the delicatessens German sausages, traditional cold cuts and salami, Swiss and Dutch cheeses, potato salads, and hearty European breads.


One loyal patron from Fairfield, Wash., recently drove the more than 20 miles to the deli, located at 417 E. Third, just to buy some sausages and bread for dinner that night, saying it was a family favorite.


For those who dont find bratwurst mouthwatering, the small, unassuming deli tempts with a half-dozen lines of Swiss, Austrian, and German chocolates, a substantial selection of German wines and beers, and imported cookies and candies. Then there are shelves stocked with European grocery items, such as gravy and dumpling (kndel) mixes, European soaps, and other specialty goods.


Weve really established ourselves as a place that has taken care of the German community here, says Werner Gaubinger, who has owned the delicatessen and gift shop with his wife, Carole, since 1976. We have a good following. Some customers have been coming to us for all 25 years.


Gaubinger, a native of Austria, believes that customers keep coming back because of the delis hearty European breads, which it buys from bakers mostly in Germany and Canada, the German and European sausages that it buys mostly from German sausage makers in the U.S., and imported grocery items that customers cant find elsewhere. The delis shelves are lined with such items as sauerkraut, German pickles, fish, jams and jellies, instant mousse, and egg noodles (spaetzle), carrying brand names like Oetker and Bechtle.


Gaubinger estimates that more than 1,000 different items are stocked in the tight, 2,500-square-foot building, including gift items such as colorful imported napkins and coasters, greeting cards, pasta dishes, and German steins.


Were a small store, but we have a big variety, Gaubinger says. He adds, though, that the sausages still are the delis biggest draw, with patrons coming back religiously for bratwurst, bockwurst, and liver sausage. Some of the popular cheeses the deli offers include Swiss-style cheeses such as Gruyere (pronounced Groo-yer) and raclette, blue cheeses such as Roquefort and Gorgonzola, and Dutch cheeses such as Gouda and Edam, he says.


The Gaubingers began operating Alpine Deli after buying then 12-year-old Horners Meats & Deli, which had been located near Division Street and Buckeye Avenue on the North Side. Horners mostly had specialized in meat, and was just beginning to establish a German delicatessen there, Gaubinger says. After buying the business, the Gaubingers renamed it Alpine Deli, enlarged the German deli concept, and eventually began adding gift items.


Gaubinger, who moved to the U.S. from Austria in 1964, says that operating Alpine Deli was a natural fit for him because he had been raised around small businesses, including meat operations, and had been trained in restaurant management. Also, at the time the Gaubingers bought Horners Meats, they had been operating gift shops in Coeur dAlene and Missoula, Mont. They closed their gift shops a couple of years later, in the late 1970s, he says.


In 1988, they moved Alpine Deli from the leased space it had occupied on Division to its current location, which it owns. The deli currently employs about five employees.


It was more centrally located, Gaubinger says of the building on Third. Its accessible from the freeway and that appeals to our customers who live in outlying areas.


There, the Gaubingers decided to begin offering deli sandwiches in addition to the German and European sausages and cheeses for which the business was building a reputation. They also expanded the shops non-deli inventory, adding imported beer, wine, and a wider variety of grocery items.


He says, though, that Alpine Deli, like other specialty ethnic food groceries and delicatessens here, has had to deal with increasing competition from supermarket chains in recent decades, as those chains have beefed up their ethnic food lines.


Still, Gaubinger says there have been some benefits from the supermarket competition. For instance, shoppers have become more aware of specialty food items, which has boosted interest in ethnic cooking, he contends. Greater demand allows Alpine to stock small amounts of a wide variety of specialty items that such cooks might need. Supermarkets, on the other hand, prefer to stock larger amounts of fewer items that they know they can move quickly, he says.


The supermarkets cant carry everything. So you just cant give up, Gaubinger says. You need to find your special area, and thats what we have been doing.

  • Lisa Harrell

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