By Dave Schwab
Before Piatti there was Rheinlander.
Gone but far from forgotten, Rheinlander Haus restaurant, bar, gift and coffeeshop was a slice of Germany in La Jolla Shores for nearly 30 years.
Memories of the storied eatery, now Piatti La Jolla Italian Restaurant & Bar at 2182 Avenida De La Playa (and inbetween Gustaf-Anders, Swedish cuisine) resurfaced with the Feb. 6, 2012 death at age 83 of Ernest Kloeble.
A European immigrant, Kloeble co-owned and operated Rheinlander Haus from 1956 to 1984 with business partner Al Williams. During that time, Kloeble established a couple of important precedents in the San Diego restaurant industry.
“He was one of the first people to get outside seating in San Diego after fighting the health department, and one of the first privately owned San Diego restaurants to have a completely tiled kitchen, which was done so skillfully it was used as a model,” noted nephew Rudy Kloeble who grew up in his uncle’s restaurant serving Southern German cuisine. “He also was one of the first people on the West Coast to have German beer imported.”
Rudy Kloeble said his uncle was able to take outside dining one step further, securing a permit his last couple years in business to close down the street in front of the restaurant to have “great Octoberfests.”
Before Rheinlander was the Old Holiday Inn, which Rudy Kloeble said his uncle and Williams turned into “a landmark attraction.”
Rudy said Ernie was able to make good connections with German breweries that got his foot in their door and opened up other business opportunities.
“They gave him lots of mementos to sell,” he said. “He opened up a gift shop and sold beer steins, a few cuckoo clocks, different types of glassware and anything oriented toward food.”
Rudy Kloeble described Rheinlander as “authentic as you can get,” with lots of elaborate décor. “Ernie sold antiques on the side and some of his best pieces were displayed in the restaurant,” his nephew said adding, “People enjoyed that rich, old-fashioned-style.”
Rudy Kloeble said uncle Ernie also sponosored a number of immigrants who followed him out to La Jolla and became U.S. citizens. He added that was a big deal in those days since sponsors “were financially responsible” for those they sponsored for the first five years of their stay.
Ernest Kloeble sold Rheinlander but never retired.
“He was a living legend,” said Rudy Koeble. “He worked right up until the day he passed away. He had a nice bed and breakfast that he was still running down in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico.”
Hedy Lang, a good friend of Ernie Kloeble’s who was an employee of his and a lifelong patron, said he was “the most enormously generous person I’ve ever met.”
She said his restaurant reflected his warmth. “It was home to everybody that went there,” she said adding it was decorated throughout with paintings.
Lang said friends came from all over the world — Canada, Germany, South America — for Kloeble’s funeral.
Kloeble and Williams, said Lang, were also renowned for their charity.
“Ernie and Al used to go down to Tijuana to the orphanage or pick up kids on the street dressed in rags and take them shopping for clothes and toys,” she said. “It was just fantastic. Anybody who needed anything they always helped out.”
Lang said, “He never was negative, never complained. He’s going to be missed by a lot of people worldwide.”