With family roots running deep into Columbus, Andy Schmidt brings his love of tradition and hospitality to all through his authentic German cuisine at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus.

A night time image of a restaurant, seen from outside

Schmidt’s Sausage Haus – The Flagship Store

Follow Schmidt’s Sausage Haus on Socials: Facebook | Instagram 

Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.

Schmidt’s is a fifth generation family owned and operated business which opened in 1886 as a local meat packing company on the south side of Columbus. Our company pivoted into the restaurant business when my father, George Schmidt, decided to close the packing house and open a German themed restaurant in the heart of German Village. He remodeled an old livery stable located around the corner from the meat packing plant.

Dad used many of our sausage recipes from the packing plant and turned them into menu items. After hiring two German ladies to help with other authentic German side dishes and pastries, Schmidt’s opened in July of 1967. Today, Schmidt’s is a household name in our city, operating in multiple arenas of hospitality, including food tents at multiple fairs and festivals.

We are also one of the largest catering companies in the city, and over the last decade have become the largest food truck company in central Ohio. Schmidt’s also distributes products in the local groceries.

How did the idea for your business come about?

My grandfather opened a food stand at the Ohio State Fair in 1914 (Schmidt’s is the oldest concessionaire at The Ohio State Fair), which was the flame that ignited my dad’s passion for the restaurant, hospitality business. The state fair is a special time for the Schmidt family. Growing up, our entire family (6 kids and many cousins) would work long hours during the fair. The fair’s success prompted us to create a division exclusively for fairs and festivals. Today we do close to 100 events per year.

In the early ’90s, we built a food cart and licensed it for downtown Columbus sidewalks. I spent most of the summer on the streets fine-tuning what was to come. I got a heck of a suntan, but the cart just didn’t work well in rain and snow.

In 2012 I was watching an episode of The Great American Food Truck Race on the Food Network and it dawned on me that we could put our sausage on wheels and beat the heck out of most of those I was watching operate on the show. It wasn’t but a month or two that my brother Geoff and I booked a flight to LA to see how the big boys were doing food trucks. Eight months later we had our first Schmidt’s Sausage Truck on the streets of Columbus. The next year we helped begin the Central Ohio Food Truck Association.

A food truck sits in a parking lot

A Schmidt’s Sausage Haus food truck, serving the community

What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?

I was 23 years old living across the street from our German Village restaurant when the great blizzard of 1978 shut down most of the city. We were closed for almost a week because the snow plows couldn’t get down the narrow brick streets of the village. I happened to be in the restaurant on one of those closed days when a taxi cab pulled up and this old man got out and tried to open our front door. I hurried to unlock the door to tell him that we couldn’t serve him.

His plea was that it was his and his wife’s 50th anniversary and all his bride wanted was a Schmidt’s Cream Puff. I invited him in, gave him a hot cup of coffee and proceeded back to the freezer where the puff shells lived during the storm. I quickly whipped up some our our filling, stuffed it and gave it to the guy on the Haus. I know we had something special then.

I’d also have to say that we had no idea that we had something special when, during the first season in December of 2008, Man v Food came to Columbus with a host by the name of Adam Richman. Adam dined at Schmidt’s, The Thurman Café and The Ohio Deli that weekend. Not many people had heard of this new show or the Travel Channel. 15 years later the episode is still streaming on the Travel Channel. Talk about something special!


A black and white photo of men in a tent serving hotdogs to other men in the tent

Schmidt’s at the State Fair with the All Ohio Boys Band

What does the city of Columbus mean to your business? 

My great grandfather immigrated from Montabaur, Germany in the mid 1800s, settling in the south end of Columbus. He opened the meat packing plant just a few doors down from where he lived. At the time, before I-70 was built, German Village Proper butted up against Downtown. Grandpa Schmidt opened a small meat stand in the ’40s in Central Market on the west side of Fourth Street, between Town and Rich.

Schmidt’s has a rich history in Columbus sports. History shows we had the first hot dog stand in a professional baseball stadium when the Columbus Solons moved into Recreation Park, which happened to be across the street from our meat packing plant at the corner of Kossuth and Jaeger.

Grandpa Schmidt was also part owner of Columbus’s only pro football team, the Columbus Bullies. They played at the old Clippers baseball stadium from 1939 through 1941. The WWII draft was the end of the team and the league. Our rich history has been interwoven with the growth of Columbus over the past century and a half.

A black and white photo of a man holding a football

A poster for a matchup between the New York Yankees football team and the Columbus Bullies

Are you from Columbus?

Our family homestead was in Upper Arlington five doors down from Anne and Woody Hayes. Every Halloween Anne always had a continuous line at her door not because she was Woody’s wife, but that she gave away king size Snickers and Baby Ruth’s. She was a sweetheart for sure.

I remember TP-ing the Hayes house when the Buck’s beat OJ in the ‘69 Rose Bowl. Anne was out there helping throw rolls of toilet paper over her roof. My whole family are all huge Buckeye fans! Growing up we could hear, from my front yard, the fans cheering after a touchdown. Katie and I bought the house directly across the street from where I grew up and have we have lived there 38 years. We love Columbus!

Did you ever think of opening up a second location in Dublin or somewhere else in the city or did it seem off brand to expand locations?

In the 80s we had restaurants in Upper Arlington, Westerville, Reynoldsburg, and at the Convention Center. As you can see they don’t exist today.

The plan today is to put wheels on those restaurants, and if the location isn’t right we up and move it! But you never know what the future brings. If we could find another German Village….

A colorful photo of food being served at a state fair

What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business? 

When you fail, and you will, fail forward. Pick yourself up and learn from your mistakes and try not to make the same one twice.

For someone coming to Schmidt’s for the first time, what would you recommend they order and what’s your reason behind this?

I guess most people would lean in towards our famous Bahama Mama hickory smoked sausage, but my favorite is the Fat Daddy, which is a thick slice of bologna style meat made with the Bahama Mama meat and spice recipe. It’s served on a pretzel roll with swiss cheese. Order it Reuben style with German Potato Salad and you’ll be hooked for life. I guarantee it!

Could you tell me a bit more about the Bahama Mama recipe came to be? 

The Bahama Mama recipe was formulated by my grandpa Schmidt back in the meat packing days. It got its name when my Uncle Grover came back from a fishing trip in the Bahamas and met a bartender whose nickname was Bahama Mama. It stuck.

What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business? 

That you don’t get to clock out at 4:30 and go home.

Talk me through the history of your famous cream puffs. When did you first start selling them?

In 1967 the first lady my father hired was Betty Tresselt who was from Northern Germany. Betty brought the Cream Puff recipe to Schmidt’s along with other delights like our German chocolate cake and our cherry cheese tarts.

Our first trip down to the Cincinnati Oktoberfest 40 years ago, we baked and took 5000 cream puffs down with us and sold out the first day of the fest. We knew we had a winner!

What’s the most challenging part of your business?

Taking work home with me. I remember my dad every night having a glass of warm milk to settle his stomach before he went to bed. Work gave him ulcers. About 30 years ago I learned a great lesson on how to get to sleep in five minutes. I give the day to the Lord.

A black and white photo of a man working a food cart

Andy Schmidt working a food cart in downtown Columbus in 1984

Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?

Great questions! I’ve got many flaws. One “biggy” is that I sometimes don’t pay close enough attention during a conversation with people, professionally and personally. Stephen Covey had it correct with his 5th habit in his best seller The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People- “seek first to understand, then be understood.” Often, I’m too busy thinking of what I’m going to say next instead of listening first. Man, if I could do that better, it would be like pure butter!

Tell me a bit about some of the beer you sell at Schmidt’s. 

Anheuser-Busch Brewery opened its doors in 1968 close to the Schmidt’s in German Village opening. They were doing a grand opening of the brewery and had, what was then, the Clydesdale in town for the promo.

Somehow dad was able to get the first keg of Michelob delivered by horse and carriage all the way down High Street to Kossuth Street to Schmidt’s. That first keg plaque is hanging at the front entrance of the restaurant.

I know Arnold Schwarzenegger has visited Schmidt’s. What are some of your favorite celebrities that have been through the doors? 

Adam Richman, Glen Beck, Dick Cheney, Dave Matthews, Liberace, Billy Corgan to name a few.

Bob Hope used to stop by our tent after his performance at the Ohio State Fair along with Bob Marvin, Captain Kangaroo and other legends of the past.

When did you start to think of yourself as an entrepreneur? 

I never really have thought of myself as an entrepreneur but more of a steward of our brand. My Dad was the entrepreneur in our family and should get all the glory and recognition. He had the guts to close the packing house and pivot into the restaurant business in a district that wasn’t historic yet. Dad was a humble and giving person who was involved in both Charity Newsies and the Columbus Kiwanis Club. He was a great example to follow for all six of his son’s and daughters. We all miss his leadership and infectious smile.

A black and white photo of several men wearing food caps

George F. Schmidt, right, stands for a photo with Charity Newsies

Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different? 

We are on a continuous wheel of refinement at Schmidt’s. Some people might say that I’m never satisfied and I’m sure there is some truth in that statement. But “status quo”, I believe, is a killer to many businesses.

The moment you sit back and relax, someone’s around the corner sucking up your market. People want a good value and a good overall experience when they go out, and if you don’t provide that, you risk the fallout of negative feedback on social media. I remember my dad saying, “the best and cheapest advertising in the world is a guest saying to a friend how good the food and service was at Schmidt’s.” He’s right. It’s called Word of Mouth.

Our cause or purpose at Schmidt’s is to help our community celebrate by offering legendary hospitality so that all may thrive. The Greek word for hospitality is “philoxenos” which means the love for strangers. If we can do that, like our mission says, all thrive; guest and team member. We try and treat everyone, even new staff, like they are first time guests to the Schmidt Haus.

What was your biggest mistake and what did it cost you?

It actually turned out to be more of a blessing in the end than a mistake.

In 1985 I had this great idea to combine German food with a German micro-brewery. My bride, Katie, and I flew over to Munich and toured brewery manufacturing companies along with brew masters. A trip of a lifetime! My dream was to have the first German brewhaus in the city. We had just bought a piece of property outside of Westerville (a dry municipality at the time). Perfect for a Schmidt Brewhaus.

We started the project on a two-acer plot of land with the equipment ordered and a native German brew master in contract. However, I neglected to do my due diligence in liquor law. At the time, it was illegal for liquor license holders to own a brewing license. Oops!!

It was a tough day having to explain to my father and brothers why we couldn’t follow through with the original plans. We ended up turning the brewery side of the building into a banquet facility and catering kitchen. Today, with all the brewpubs in town, I’m glad we made that decision to stay out of the brewing biz. That restaurant and banquet facility remained open for 10 years.

What tool has helped you the most for your business?

The Franklin Daily Planner was a huge asset for me and the company back in the late ’80s early ’90s. Our entire leadership team carried the six-ring binder with them every day, keeping track of their meetings and tasks. I still use a similar spiral notebook to keep my tasks and appointments, both professional and personal, on track by using Stephen Covey’s system of self-organizational management. I know Microsoft Outlook can do the same thing, but I’m old school and like to actually write down on paper what needs to be done. Many of our leadership practice the same principles.

When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?

A decade ago, I began to seriously develop our first food truck and fine tune the operational side of this new division. It was the hardest year, physically, of my life, but was educational in understanding how different the food truck category was going to be in comparison to our fairs and festivals division.

Most importantly. I realized that if we wanted to break through the ceiling growth-wise in this industry, we had to keep our processes simple and streamlined so that service would be fast, efficient, and consistent. I knew that we had a unique product that could be replicated. My first hire was the wife of the man who leads our marketing team today. Elizabeth knew the fast food business was a lifesaver and idea-maker for me and the food truck business.

What’s something that was a game changer for your business?

Coincidently, when the pandemic hit in March of 2020, I was reading a book by Gino Wickman called Traction. Traction is all about a simple to swallow Entrepreneurial Operating System for small to medium companies. A good friend and past team member, Adam McCampbell, had recommended the book and was also licensed to coach the concept. He and the book turned out to be a Godsend.

Three years ago, we were operating our six profit divisions from two separate companies. I was leading the catering/banquet and food trucks, and my oldest brother Geoff was leading the restaurants and retail sales side. Geoff was getting ready to retire, so I felt that merging the two companies was prudent and necessary. That became a game changer during Covid-19. We were able to pivot naturally and move our leadership into areas that were profiting during “the storm.”

We were able to keep most of our team fully employed and develop great camaraderie and energy with our leadership team. Perhaps most importantly, we were able to set up our 5th generation for success and the natural progression to run both companies.

How difficult was it going through Covid when restaurants were getting shut down? What did you learn from this that helped you come out stronger on the other side?

It was interesting times. We had different profit center options to pivot into. For instance, when restaurant dine-in sales tanked, our carryout and delivery boomed. When fairs and festivals business went away our food trucks went crazy. Our on-line bulk sausage sales went through the roof as well so the downturn didn’t affect us like it did for many restaurants. And when things somewhat got back to normal in dining those other profit centers stayed significant.

What’s an idea you’ve spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference that didn’t pan out? 

I would consider myself the visionary of our company. I instinctively look to the future, even though my retirement is approaching in a little over two years, I’m still out there. Many of my ideas may be initially rejected by our team, but the team knows that I keep track of each idea and often I resubmit them at another time. Not only once, but several times.

What is something your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?

Our relationships with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Columbus Crew have been a huge investment for us over the past couple years, both financially and operationally. Not only do we believe that it’s important and worthwhile to be involved with the community in this way, but having food concession stands in both facilities has helped to solidify who we are as a company as well as offering an established brand to Central Ohio.

These venues also fit nicely with our “walk around” menu items that Schmidt’s has been offering for decades.

Our goal is to develop partnerships with these types of arenas, and to spread the Schmidt love to a demographic that aligns well in our brand. We are excited to have the opportunity to partner with these two great Columbus sports scenes!

What’s something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?

We have built a diverse and effective marketing team utilizing outside sources. Our team is headed up by Dan Dahlen with Dahlen Communications. Dan is a marketing professor at Ohio University and was on the Wendy’s team that introduced the Where’s the Beef campaign in 1984. Our PR relationship with the Sarah Irvin group has been phenomenal and is worth its weight in gold. This collaboration has been instrumental in keeping the Schmidt’s brand on the minds of people in Columbus and beyond.

A black and white photo of a man with a mustache and a bowtie

J. Fred Schmidt – Original Founder of Schmidt Packing Co.

Who is your best Columbus resource? 

Public Relations: Sarah Irvin Clark, Irvin Publications
Marketing: Dan Dahlen, Dahlen Communications
Law Firm, Small Business, Bea Wolper, Emens & Wolper
Marketing: Don Lee, Horizons Companies

Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?

My wife Katie is my first go to. Funny story: I hired her at Schmidt’s almost 40 years ago, so she understands the business and understands me. By the way, at that time our company had a no fraternizing policy at Schmidt’s! The owner, me, was breaking policy big time. I had to go to my father and apologize for breaking policy and then to remove that policy from our handbook. Thank God, my father said yes. It’s amazing what love does!

Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?

10 years is way too far out for me. Too much can change in a decade. I like the 3-to-5-year vision.

We will be placing two food trucks in “Cincy” in 2023. This will be the first time we will venture out of Central Ohio with a permanent address. Funny, we almost opened a restaurant in Northern Kentucky 30 years ago. That’s another story…

Our Franchise Disclosure Documents are completed for our food trucks and ready to move forward. I envision us breaking through the franchise ceiling and having a Schmidt presence in every major city within a four-hour radius of Columbus in the next 5 years. I also look forward to our next generation being in the driver’s seat and in fifth gear so that I can spend more time with the eight grandbabies out on the west coast!

I’m also very interested in a deeper dive into specialty grocery stores with a more significant line of Schmidt German branded items. Currently we only have the Bahama Mama smoked sausage and our sauerkraut in a small segment of the market. I think that market could be significantly expanded if we venture wisely!

When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, what do you do to overcome this feeling?

38 years ago, I couldn’t sleep at night because of the work stress and pressure. We had four Schmidt’s restaurants in Columbus and three of them were losing money. To top it off, I had just gone through a terrible divorce and child custody battle. My default was towards alcohol and drugs. That’s when a new neighbor of mine shared with me his personal journey and his belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That same year we had also hired a man to lead our operations who is a strong Christian. Chip became my mentor both in business and life for the next four years. What I learned in those years was that if I place Christ first in my life, my family second and work last that I would find peace, the peace that I had been searching for, for the previous twenty years. I made that change and slowly things started to turn. It’s not that life got easier, but the way in which I dealt with it gave me clarity and peace. When I went home at night, I could lay my head on the pillow and know that I was safe in my father’s arms. This was a huge life-change for Andy Schmidt!

What’s your end goal with the business? Is this something you want to pass down to your kids or would you like to eventually sell?

My two boys Brandon and Maxwell both have families of their own and have pursued other careers. I encouraged them to chase after their own dreams and if it led them back to Schmidt’s, then I’d welcome them with open arms. Guess what… they both love what they do and are great at it, so Nana and Pops fly to California and Nevada to get our “family fix.”

Both my brothers and one sister have sons that are heavily involved in the business, and it has been a blessing to be able to work with each of them and be able and willing to hand off the legacies of Schmidt’s.

What’s one component of entrepreneurship that’s much different than what most people think?

Become a servant to your staff, not a master.

What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?

Tim Kight: Founder, CEO, Focus 3.

If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?

Start with a walking tour of German Village, Columbus Zoo and then COSI, with a tour of “The Shoe”; lunch at Thurman’s Café and, of course, dinner at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus, serenaded with our strolling German omp-pa-pa music with accordion player Mike Farrenkopf.