Stan Van Beurden and his daughter Allison will celebrate the Hofbrau der Albatross’ 50th Anniversary in June.
Not many people find their calling right out of high school, and fewer still carry on with it for half a century. But Stan Van Beurden is one of the exceptions.
In June Van Beurden will celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the Hofbrau der Albatross, the Morro Bay waterfront restaurant that he and his family started 50-years ago in a little spot in the HMS Salt Building, which was brand new at the time.
Stan, his late brother Joost and his father started the Hofbrau in June 1971, when Stan was fresh out of high school. They’d already had one restaurant uptown, so the family knew the business.
The late-Jim Maul, an architect, was in the process of building the HMS Salt Building, Van Beurden explained, so the timing was good.
They patterned the Hofbrau after a legendary San Francisco pub, “Lefty O’Doul’s,” he said while sitting in a dining room greatly restricted in capacity by the State’s Coronavirus Pandemic orders.
The Salt Building was one of the waterfront’s first “artisan malls,” he said. Back then there were seven little shops in the building — a ceramics shop, a jewelry store, a macramé store, a leather shop and a man who made burl wood tables. “It was a party every night,” he laughed.
He said they started the restaurant at a most opportune time. “Back then there were a limited number of restaurants to eat at [on the waterfront],” he said.
San Luis Obispo wasn’t nearly as built up then, and he said they got a lot of Cal Poly students who made the trip to the Coast to eat at Hofbrau. “Cal Poly was a huge draw for us,” he said. “But not anymore.”
They started the Hofbrau with a $20,000 loan, he recalled. Times have changed. “I just spent $10,000 on a new oven.”
The Hofbrau was “a hit from the beginning. We’ve never looked back,” he said. “We’ve never had a down year in 50 years.” Though he admits that during the 2020 pandemic, not a normal year by any measure, he was down some from the previous year, owning to the fact they were closed for a couple of months at the pandemic’s start.
When they started in ‘71, they just served the meat sandwiches, but that didn’t last long. “When we first opened,” he said, “we didn’t have any seafood. But we learned pretty fast you need to have fish & chips.” Within the first year, they introduced fish & chips.
It’s the beef sandwiches — carved off a 25-35-pound USDA Choice inside top round, a massive hunk of meat that some restaurants serve as prime rib — which Hofbrau is famous for.
They custom slice it at the counter giving customers a mouth-watering view of the whole process. “It’s a commodity that not everyone uses,” he said of the giant roasts. He buys the meat exclusively from St. Helen’s Beef Co., after seeing wild fluctuations in the price of beef. St. Helen’s gives him a good steady price. The key is to cook it slow.
Not giving away too many secrets, Van Beurden explained that they cook the beef for about 6 hours at low temperature. Keeping it warm at a low temp (145°) keeps it fresh all day and doesn’t continue cooking it, which would make it tough.
Another key is the bun. “Originally we used San Francisco Parisian Bread,” he said. “Then we switched to San Luis Sourdough. We’ve used Brian’s Breads for the last 20 years. That’s part of the secret, finding the right bread.”
He estimates they’ve made about 1.5 million beef dip sandwiches alone and he’s personally carved up about 250,000 of them. They serve about 40,000 a year now, some 200 a day.
They spent 31 years in the Salt Building and moved to the current location in the Harbor Center — at 901 Embarcadero — almost 19 years ago.
When they decided to move, he said, he threw a big party and about 50 friends and customers showed up with about four trailers. “We took every piece of equipment out,” he said, chuckling at the memory.
The landlord called the police, claiming the equipment was his, but he said he told the officers this was obviously a civil matter and they left. “We moved out overnight,” he said, “and moved in here a week later.”
The current site has 30% more seating and like the original location, there’s often a line out the door with people waiting to order.
His brother Joost was killed in a car crash about 40-years ago, a memory that still saddens him. He’d gone to Vietnam and was running a restaurant in Los Osos when he died.
The Hofbrau is a “family” business, as Van Beurden said his daughters have worked for him and many of his employees — all of whom have kept their jobs during the pandemic — have worked for him for decades. His cook, Jose, has been with him for 35 years, he said.
Now, his daughter Allison is planning to buy the business from him, whenever Stan, 67, gets ready to retire, though he says he’ll always be involved.
His daughter Nicole worked there for about 12 years, he said, and now works for the City of SLO. His 19-year-old granddaughter works for him now.
He also has the master lease next door to Hofbrau, where House of JuJu is located, which he calls his retirement plan.
He just recently finished a major remodel of that building, creating a new dining room area that opens to a new segment of the Harborwalk that he also installed.
He shook his head as he recalled that the project languished for years before he could get it done. They wrapped the pilings, installed the Harborwalk decking and basically replaced the backside of the building. Originally, when he took that lease site over in 2010 the idea was to move the Hofbrau in but it was just too small.
The remodel, which ran $500,000, added 24 seats to the restaurant and access to the rear deck.
Van Beurden said the best thing about what he does is the social aspect, “and the fact that I’ve made so many friends.” He said he’s got generations of people who come in, the children and grandchildren of those early Cal Poly customers.
One guy was in the other day, he said, who hadn’t been here in 15 years. He recalls being on vacation once with wife Kathy — his high school sweatheart — and someone came up and said “Hi Stan, how you doing?” he laughed.
“People generally are in a really good mood when they go out to eat,” he said. “They don’t want to be miserable. As owners, we have to make you feel welcome.” Allison has the same attitude. “It makes you proud that you did something lasting and good.”
But the worst thing about all this is the hours, and the responsibility. “It’s never out of your mind,” he said. Keeping up with all the law changes is challenging. “You always worry that you’re doing the right thing,” he said of keeping up with employee laws.
Also, the unforeseen events, like the time a chandelier fell down onto a table where people were eating. “Luckily no one was hurt but that’s the kind of thing you lose sleep over.”
He also worries about the pandemic. “We’ve been very fortunate. I had one employee test positive.” But with a few days off, they recovered, with no further cases.
“As a business owner in general,” he added, “those are the things you worry about.”
Last year’s one he’d probably like to forget, as would probably everyone else.
“The last year has been tough,” he said. “It’s been really tough on the employees, especially when you have young kids working. Business was down a bit [about 10%] in 2020 but they got through it.
“We kept the employees on the whole time. And we had a great response from our customers. The tipping’s been good too.”
He said last summer was one for the record books. “We had bigger weekends than I’ve seen in 50 years,” he said.