Rotisserie chicken emperor: Who is Friedrich Jahn?

The Swiss businessman of Austrian origin rose to millionaire with the Wienerwald (Vienna Forest) restaurant chain he founded in the 50s. He was eager to grow in the 70s. But the growth spurt failed. That's why he had to sell off his rotisserie chicken empire in the 80s.

By Jane Dickens Published on 15 Mayıs 2024 : 19:48.
Rotisserie chicken emperor: Who is Friedrich Jahn?

Born in Linz, Austria, as the son of a restaurateur family, Jahn stopped studying when he was in high school. Following family tradition, he started his apprenticeship to learn cooking and waitressing.

The first “Wienerwald” Restaurant

In the early 50s, newly married Jahn settled in Munich. He opened a small restaurant here with his wife, Hermi, who would later become the mother of his two children.

His financial situation was not very bright. That's why he prioritized affordable purchases for cooking. When he had the opportunity to buy chicken meat from the USA at a cheap price, he decided to switch to entirely chicken dishes. He changed the name of his restaurant to “Wienerwald” and started selling rotisserie chicken.

Wienerwald GmbH is a German chain of franchised fast food restaurants, specializing in chicken – especially hendl (a type of roast chicken), schnitzel, and other similar products. Its name means Vienna Woods. As of 2022 there are five Wienerwald restaurants in Germany and three in Egypt. Previously, the company had also operated in Austria, Belgium, Hungary, The Netherlands, Romania, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

His success confirmed that he was right in his thoughts. In the following years, Jahn opened other restaurants in Southern Germany. It was able to keep prices low by meeting the ever-increasing need for fried chicken through wholesale orders placed by Wienerwald Limited Company in Munich.

By the end of the 60s, more than 200 restaurants had joined the chain. Apart from these, he also launched many hotels under the name "Wienerwald" for marketing reasons.

He also tried to launch a fast-food chain, with less success. In the mid-70s, Jahn decided to share the operating responsibility of the Wietterwald chain (annual turnover: approximately DM 600 million) and introduced the so-called Franchise System.

Founded in 1955 by Linz restaurateur Friedrich Jahn (1923 – 1998) in Munich, Wienerwald rapidly grew to become Europe's largest restaurant chain with more than 1600 restaurants in 1978.

Accordingly, independent entrepreneurs gained the right to run a Wienerwald restaurant and receive goods purchased from a center by contributing a 5% share of the turnover. Withdrawing from active management, Jahn assumed the chairmanship of the board of directors of the Wienerwald Holding company in Feusisberg, Switzerland.

Its turnover rose suddenly thanks to the Franchise principle. At the end of the 70s, approximately 150,000 fried (rotisserie) chickens were sold per day. Continuing to grow, Jahn tried to enter the US market. He purchased the majority shares of two restaurant chains that were short on capital, and in a short time, almost 1,000 businesses in the United States had joined Jahn's company.

Jahn, a Swiss national since 1977, has also expanded into other sectors. He founded the tourism business called Jahn-Reisen, based on his businesses under the name Tourotel. But because he had exceeded his financial limit in the US and could not get his businesses out of harm's way quickly enough, Jahn's debts soon reached a quarter of a billion DM.

After 1982, banks determined the fate of the company. He had to sell his organizations in different fields. Jahn was removed from his position as the manager of the holding and was given a "demotion in rank" by being appointed chairman of the board of directors. Despite all the precautions taken, Jahn lost everything when his company was forced to seek a settlement in 1982. All that remains is the holding company, which was purchased by Munich businesswoman Renate Thyssen for DM 20 million in 1986.

Thyssen gave 62-year-old Jahn a job as Germany's foreign sales manager in this holding company.

In a big surprise, Thyssen sold its German regional subsidiary to Jahn a week later. Thus, Jahn bought back part of his company for only 2.5 million DM. However, Jahn was not able to achieve the profits of the old days, as sales of fried chicken declined noticeably. He sold his restaurants to a London company for an estimated 40 million DM. The Wigast Group in Vienna managed to take control of all Wienerwald restaurants by 1991, and in 1992 it also acquired the "Schnitzelhaus" restaurants that Jahn had opened in Southern Germany. The owner of the restaurants resisted Jahn's attempts to control the restaurants in Austria and won the case in 1991.