After almost 90 years, eight owners and many memories, the Westphalia Inn is again for sale.
The historic restaurant has been in business since 1930. Current owners Terry and Mary Neuner hope the next operator will carry on the tradition in their little German heritage town of the Ozark foothills.
"We let people know we are closing Dec. 23 to give everybody a chance, because people are disappointed that we are leaving," Mary Neuner said. "People can come one more time or two or three. We are already inundated (with customers)."
The inn serves the customary menu of fried chicken, country ham and German pot roast. The Neuners added their Westphalia Vineyards wine and appetizers after they purchased the business in 2008 and converted the upstairs into a tasting room.
The inn and restaurant originally were constructed by hotelier Frank Rehagen (1887-1956) as the Rehagen Hotel, built on East Main Street next door to another endeavor, the Borgmeyer/Rehagen hotel, which burned down in 1940. Rehagen's second hotel survived the blaze with only cracked windows because it was built as one of the first fireproof buildings in the country, made only of concrete and metal.
"When it was built, it was the most modern building in all of Mid-Missouri," Terry Neuner said. The hotel offered radiated central heating and a bathroom in each of the 17 rooms vacationing Maries River fisherman often rented.
Terry said the restaurant can hold approximately 200 customers, and the building would function well as a bed and breakfast or new owners could live on the second floor. It has several separate rooms, which the Neuners offered to customers for private dining at no extra cost.
The couple initially set out to protect the inn's heritage and hope to sell it to a kindred spirit. They have a passion for preserving historic buildings to maintain the town's history and bucolic charm. However, the Neuners are getting older and want to spend more time with their three children and 11 grandchildren. Mary said the inn is a full-time job, and it's time to move on to their next project.
"We didn't do it to do restoration," Terry said. "We did it to help the town."
"We want to keep traditions going," Mary added. "This is our sixth building. We bought another one recently. We fix them up because they were either going to be torn down or in bad shape."
"And this one was in bad shape," Terry concluded. "The interesting thing is, when you start fixing things up, other people do too. This community has always had pride, but it needed a little spark."
Throughout the renovation — adding things like a new roof, windows and geothermal heating — they tried to preserve the inn's old-time authenticity without closing the restaurant.
Local preservation is their passion — especially Mary's — restoring their 1840s home and winery barn, along with a log cabin and a former blacksmith shop converted into the Westphalia Pizza Company. They also stay busy with other ventures, such as raising Wagyu beef cattle, running the winery and restoring their next wine shop — the town's old grocery store, where Mary lived as a child.
"My grandfather had the grocery store downstairs, and we lived upstairs," she said. "It was a building that was once used for local theater. The upstairs was one big open area with a stage."
The Neuners plan to use it for wine tastings and possibly antiques.
After almost 10 years at the Westphalia Inn, the Neuners thank the loyal customers for their faithful patronage.
"We love the people," Mary said. "We have so many people that come back" — "For years," her husband added.
"They'll say, 'We were here 30 years ago,'" Marry went on. "It's third-generation people."
The inn has been the setting of many memorable events throughout the decades. Mary said the place has done it all. Countless baptism celebrations, wedding receptions and funeral dinners have been held within its walls. The town's first phone call was exhibited there between the mayor and city clerk. Faithful regulars have dined in the same chairs as governors, bishops and rock stars. The Neuners said famed guitarist Eric Clapton and members of the band Alabama are among the names on the frayed pages of their guest book.
The Neuners have some more harrowing stories from the building as well.
It was used as a Cold War Civil Defense building, and Terry said there are still tin-boxed crackers and water stored in the basement.
According to records translated from German, the original owner was sitting on the porch with the town judge when the building was raided by Prohibition agents in 1931. Rehagen locked himself in a room and threatened to shoot anyone who tried to enter. By the time agents broke in and fought him into submission, the bathtub was already filled with broken glass, and all that remained of possible contraband was the smell of whiskey.
"He told the agents he tripped all over the bottles," Mary said.
Fortunately for Rehagen, the Neuners said a sympathetic jury of his peers refused to convict a man in such a predicament.