The Matterhorn Swiss Restaurant will serve its last bubbling hot pot of cheese fondue on September 30th as owners Brigitte and Andrew Thorpe say goodbye to San Francisco. The couple, originally from Switzerland, will retire to Florida after almost 25 years in the Bay Area, where they’ve run their restaurant at 2323 Van Ness Avenue since 1994.
“We’re closing because we’re old and tired,” Brigitte says with typical good humor. “We’re thrilled about retiring, we’re both in good health, and we wanted to do it while we were still walking and talking.”
Diners at the Matterhorn enter through the lobby of a mixed-use apartment building, passing beneath a banner for a one-time “Fondue Festival” that the Thorpes have never taken down. Once inside, first-time guests are in for a surprise: At the end of a hallway, the Matterhorn is a convincing recreation of a Swiss chalet, decked out in wall-to-wall knotty pine.
“It’s a crazy story,” Thorpe says: Her landlord, also from Switzerland and a contractor by trade, dreamt of opening a Swiss restaurant. He had the interior assembled in Switzerland, taken apart, and shipped to the US in 1987.
A few years later, he invited the Thorpes to operate their restaurant in his building. Since then, they’ve served countless pots of gruyere and raclette cheese fondue with cubes of bread and vegetables to dip, plus boiling bowls of broth and oil for cooking slices of aged beef. Other specialties: A strong selection of Swiss wine and chocolate fondue for dessert.
“The fondue is the big draw,” Brigitte says, and it’s a figurative as well as a literal melting pot. “That’s why why really survived over these years: Young people, middle-aged people, older people [all enjoyed it]. That’s the secret to a successful restaurant.”
When the Thorpes declined to renew their lease, “our Landlord was very bummed out,” Brigitte says. “It’s a loss because we’re the only Swiss restaurant left in San Francisco.”
Others, like the Old Swiss House on Pier 39 and Luzern in the Outer Sunset, have closed over the years. The Matterhorn’s landlord will retain the restaurant’s chalet decor and hopes to find a new operator from Switzerland.
In their final days, the Thorpes are already slammed with goodbye visits from regular customers — over the past few years, they’ve whispered their retirement plans to loyal patrons. Then, the fondue festival over, they’ll finally take down that old banner outside.