For fine German dining, Veigel’s Kaiserhoff of New Ulm set the gold standard with a menu ranging from legendary ribs to famous sauerkraut balls.

The southern Minnesota institution was the embodiment of owner Don Veigel, who started working in his parents’ small tavern at age 15 and turned it into an eating destination where athletes, celebrities and everyday folks congregated in an atmosphere that welcomed all.

Veigel, 91, died just before Christmas.

“He was quite a legend,” New Ulm businessman Paul Furth said. “He believed in hospitality and in being there to greet people, and he believed in quality food. It was a simple menu but it was a meeting place.” The restaurant remains open.

Born in Minneapolis, Veigel moved to New Ulm with his parents, Albert and Wilhelmina Veigel, in 1938 when the family first entered the restaurant business.

After graduating from New Ulm High School in 1940, Veigel enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in a variety of overseas posts during World War II and at one point was an entertainment director. He became friends with movie stars, singers and others who were there to bolster the troops’ spirits.

When Veigel returned from the war, he married Patricia Yost, had children and became New Ulm’s “ambassador of goodwill” as well as a successful restaurateur.

He sponsored an annual golf tournament for many years at the New Ulm Country Club and was a benefactor for New Ulm’s baseball program, which produced the likes of Twins coach and All-Star major league catcher Terry Steinbach. Indeed, Steinbach was a regular at the Kaiserhoff golf tournament and stopped by the restaurant to see Veigel whenever he was in New Ulm.

“One of the reasons New Ulm became so famous for baseball was because of the Kaiserhoff baseball teams,” recalled Furth. “And if you got invited to the Kaiserhoff golf tournament, that was special.”

Veigel also was buddies with former Twins great Bob Allison and Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees.

Among Veigel’s longtime friends were the Davis family of nearby St. Peter, whose business interests spread from dairy farms and Sun Country Airlines to Cambria countertop products. The Davis folks still made Veigel’s Kaiserhoff a Christmas party stop for their employees.

“He was the ultimate host,” said Marty Davis. “To him, each customer was special and he taught his people to treat customers the same way.”

Davis said Veigel would shake everyone’s hand and visit every table in the restaurant.

“He was such a big man with such a soft touch,” Davis said. “He always dressed with class. He was debonair. He looked like a million bucks.”

Veigel is survived by his wife, Jan, whom he married in 1990; children Jeff Veigel of Golden Valley, Desiree Newman of Atascadero, Calif., Jackie Olson of Rogers, Justin Addy of Sartell, Minn., and Lindsay Rigelman of Rochester; sisters Geraldine Kurvers of Eagan and Delores McNulty of St. Paul, and nine grandchildren.

As befitting a man described as an icon, Veigel’s funeral on Dec. 28 played to a full house at New Ulm’s Cathedral of the Holy Trinity where a song done in Veigel’s honor was “The Green, Green Grass of Home.”

Davis said Veigel and the Kaiserhoff were both throwbacks to a simpler time.

“You’d go in the restaurant and it was like time was frozen. It was just the way it was when I was a little boy and I went there with my father and my grandfather,” Davis said.