When you think of your hometown, a few things always come to mind: the kids' sports leagues, schools, friends and a great local restaurant. For many in the Pinecrest area, Suniland Shopping Center’s Wagons West is their favorite place to eat.
Brothers Walter and Steven Muench, came to the United States from Germany in 1958. They moved to South Florida in 1971, and after a few other restaurant ventures, opened Wagons West in 1981. For eight years, the two brothers cooked everything themselves. There’s a cast iron skillet proudly hung on the wall to memorialize their work.
Walter (or Wally as most people call him) looks back on those days with pride and satisfaction. “There was nothing like working the kitchen and turning out great food for all my patrons. Their smiles and support were all I needed to know we’d done good. People eat with their eyes,” says Wally. “We know that to stay successful, we need to be consistent. The secret is stable pricing, quality product and good service.” Brother Stephen retired in 2010, but Wally continues the family tradition.
Although there are new people discovering Wagons West every day, most have been dining here ‘forever’. For more than 25 years, Jim Smith (of JAS Group Architects Planners) has come four days a week for his lunch. Why? “It’s predictable, the food is great, the hostesses are the best and there’s always Wally, the entertainer. It’s where the elite meet to eat,” boasts Smith. “I’ve closed business deals here and made lots of new friends. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Those stories are easy to find. Multi-generational families celebrating milestones and having reunions over the hand-made counters and booths built by the Muench brothers. 38-year patron Joyce Langley explains, “Wagons West’s food is consistently good, the coffee is wonderful, Walter is a great guy and the staff is marvelous.”
Wagons West is the water cooler spot. Even more than the great American food, it's the place for local news and gossip. It's impossible not to be recognized and warmly greeted when you walk in. There’s a strong sense of consistency and staying power, punctuated perfectly by the original redwood outdoor sign which now proudly hangs over the kitchen area. Simply put, Wagons West is South Florida tradition.
Wally reflects, “This is like Times Square right here in our town. Everyone gets to Times Square at least once in their life. Like Andy Worhol said, ‘You’re gonna get your 15-minutes of fame’. This is where everyone gets their 15-minutes. This is where everyone comes to be part of the community. Everyone seems to pass through here.”
With a long-term lease in place and a veteran staff like family, Wagons West isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Yet, ‘passing through’ may be a term Wally Muench uses soon. “I’m interested in making sure my Wagons West family carries on. I’m also interested in spending more time with my kids.” And so, now the search is on to pass the baton to the right person.
If you're in the area, I highly recommend you grab some good American food and soak in a little bit of South Florida tradition. Tell Wally I sent you. You won't be disappointed. And if you know someone who might carry the baton, I’d be happy to make introductions.
Wagons West is located at 11311 S Dixie Highway and can be contacted at 305-238-9942 and wagonswestrestaurant.com.