Jan Weller and Petra Vigil immigrated to Utah from Germany decades apart. But now, the two chefs both run food businesses centered around their shared heritage — plus, they happen to be friends and support each other’s work.
The Vigils can often be found at Jan’s restaurant in Layton, Weller’s Bistro, enjoying savory German specialties like the schnitzel or rouladen. And Jan sometimes features desserts from Petra’s Backstubchen, Petra’s namesake bakery, on his specials menu.
Fans of authentic German food can find hearty food and pastries that taste just like the old country by heading north to Weller’s Bistro, or one of the many locations that sell baked goods made by Petra’s Backstubchen.
The queen bee of bienenstich
“As a young child, I enjoyed watching my mother bake,” Petra Vigil said. She quickly developed a passion for baking and, at 18, bought her first cookbook.
Eventually, Vigil packed up her cookbooks and love of baking, left her hometown of Kliding, Germany, and traveled to Utah more than 30 years ago. She made her strudels and cakes from German recipes and would give them to friends and family. But it wasn’t until her children were grown two decades later that she and her husband, Joseph, rented a commercial kitchen and began selling her pastries through the business Petra’s Bachstubchen.
The couple has since built a food-grade kitchen in the basement of their home, and they supply German pastries to several specialty stores in Utah as well as regularly sell baked goods at various farmers markets and events.
Petra’s Backstubchen offers several varieties of flaky strudel, cake, cookies and creamy cheesecake, as well as stollen for the holidays and chewy pretzels with sweet and spicy mustard.
Several items that Vigil sells are made with recipes from that first cookbook she bought years ago.
Aside from her hard-to-come-by rhubarb cake, it’s Vigil’s traditional bienenstich kuchen (“bee sting cake”) that patrons return for week after week. The honey-drenched goodness of the bienenstich cake starts with two slices of sweet yeast dough that’s sandwiched with rich, housemade German vanilla pudding and topped with honey-caramelized sliced almonds for crunch and texture. It’s sold by the slice ($5) or in a sheet cake ($50).
Vigil’s baked goods are available year-round at Lee’s Marketplace locations, both locations of The Store and at Hill Air Force Base several times a month. This summer, she will also be selling her pastries at the Cache Valley Gardner’s Market in Logan every Saturday through Oct. 16, and at the Wheeler Farm Sunday Market every Sunday through Oct 17.
To order online and view Vigil’s current menu, visit petrasbackstubchen.com.
Welcome to Layton’s ‘German place’
Chef Jan Weller, owner of Weller’s Bistro, didn’t originally open his restaurant as a German establishment, recalling that he began offering a few German dishes as specials. It only took a few months for customers to indicate that those delicacies were exactly what they wanted every day.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect people to get so excited about German cuisine,” Weller said. “After a couple months in business, we were now the ‘German place’ in town.”
Weller hails from Witten, Germany, and the current menu at Weller’s Bistro is reflective of that heritage. Many of the recipes have been in his family for generations—such as his grandfather’s hühnerfrikassee (chicken fricassee), which, as Weller was growing up, he would regularly help him make.
Today, Weller uses Riesling wine as part of the recipe to honor him—adding authenticity to the veloute sauce-based entree of chicken breast and thigh, asparagus, mushrooms, peas and carrots. Although not as popular as the restaurant’s schnitzel, Weller feels that the hühnerfrikassee is a fantastic representation of German cuisine.
Everything at Weller’s Bistro is made in house, with only a few exceptions. He uses his grandmother’s sauerkraut recipe “because it’s outstanding,” he said. “We wash the sauerkraut three times and squeeze out the vinegar before we add it to the pot to slow-cook for 3 1/2 hours.”
Similarly, the signature apfelrotkohl (red cabbage with apples) enjoys a four-hour slow-cooking process to tenderize the two main ingredients as they simmer with onions, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, red wine, cloves, juniper berries and bay leaves.
After working at several high-end hotels and restaurants in Utah, Weller was able to open his bistro in 2019. “It was a long-time dream come true for me,” he said, while explaining that Weller’s Bistro doesn’t look like guests might initially expect. “You won’t find hand-carved wooden chairs, German folk music and servers in dirndls. Instead, I used a lot of metal and reclaimed wood elements throughout and made the interior somewhat contemporary.”
The restaurant may look more modern, but the traditional North Rhine-Westphalia food will take you back in time.
Weller’s Bistro, 197 N. Main St., Layton; 385-888-9531; www.facebook.com/wellersbistro
— Heather L. King owns www.slclunches.com and can be found on social media @slclunches.