BerkShares Business of the Month: Swiss HütteMore Info
Hillsdale, N.Y. — At the base of Catamount Ski Area sits an alpine-style building. In the front garden, Swiss and American flags wave proudly in the wind. It is a view that could have come straight out of an advertisement for idyllic ski chalets in the Swiss Alps. The building is home to the appropriately named Swiss Hütte, a 14-room inn and restaurant serving international cuisine that is owned and operated by Swiss-born chef Gert Alper and wife Cindy.
The Swiss Hütte is a little bit Berkshires and a little bit Hudson Valley—the state line literally runs through the middle of the restaurant. This means that it has two liquor licenses, pays taxes in both Massachusetts and New York, and has developed a unique identity under Gert and Cindy’s management.
A classically trained chef, Gert apprenticed in his native Switzerland, refined his skills in England and then came to work in restaurants in the United States after his mandatory military service in Switzerland. The husband-and-wife team was introduced to the already established Swiss Hütte by a colleague in 1986 at the tail end of their 42,000-mile camping trip around the United States. Looking for their next adventure, they decided to purchase the operation and settle permanently in Hillsdale.
His personal culinary style? Consistency. Gert dismisses the latest food fads, instead allowing his traditional French continental cuisine to speak for itself. He says, “Change puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you and it’s very important to have an identity and be proud of it, and to work at it— to become better at what you do.” That’s why you’ll find some of the same items on the menu items since 1986, but with an extensive specials menu inspired by fresh, seasonal ingredients.
While consistency is key at the Swiss Hütte, what has changed over the years is the labor force. Gert believes that low wages and high rents are holding back regional economic growth in both Berkshire County and the Hudson Valley. As a business owner, he is deeply concerned with the well-being of his staff. He is proud to say that even his lowest-paid staff members earn well above the minimum wage.
Particularly troubling to Gert and Cindy is the inundation of short-term rentals and Airbnb-style operations to the area, which aren’t subject to the same taxes and regulations as traditional bed and breakfasts, inns and hotels. It affects them as owners of an inn, but it also impacts their employees. Short-term rental schemes can lead to speculation on properties, ultimately driving up housing costs and reducing the availability of long-term rentals for young and working-class people. Despite his efforts, Gert says that, without region-wide affordable housing, local people can’t afford to live and work here.
Yet Gert and Cindy are hopeful for the future of the local economy and the opportunity for the two regions they represent to collaborate on economic issues. BerkShares especially help to bridge that gap. Gert says, “It’s always a good thing to grow and support a micro-economy with the help of your neighbors.”