Visiting Watson’s Alpenhorn – Lake Chelan’s Beloved Cafe

It’s funny how a drive-in restaurant can inspire undying loyalty, but it does happen all the time — just ask anyone about California’s legendary In-N-Out burgers that are so popular people actually plot nearby In-N-Out locations when they consider buying a new house.

A similar loyalty — albeit on a smaller scale — has been developing on Lake Chelan’s South Shore where Watson’s Alpenhorn Cafe is popular with residents of Chelan, Manson, and the South Shore.

The biggest draw is the juicy Harverene Deluxe burger, but the Alpenhorn is also known for its old-fashioned milkshakes as well as other sandwiches, chicken, and fish. Uniquely, the restaurant offers a woodsy seating area next to a running creek as well as seating on an outdoor deck and at picnic tables on the front lawn.


It’s not really cheap drive-in food because there’s a conscious effort to use better ingredients than the typical hamburger joint. As owner Robert Watson Jr. puts it: “Our thinking is high-quality food at reasonable prices.” So, as an example, the burger patty the Alpenhorn uses is the second highest grade out of about 50 grades of beef patty available to restaurants. The shakes are made from real ice cream and taste like the ones you would get from an old-fashioned soda fountain.

With its location directly across from Lake Chelan State Park, the Alpenhorn gets its share of business from park guests. But Watson points out that the real goal has been to bring in local residents. “If we can keep the locals happy, we’ll have our share of tourists,” he said. “I think for the most part that’s worked pretty well.”

It’s worked well enough that Chelan and Manson residents will often make the short scenic drive along the South Shore to have lunch or dinner at the Alpenhorn. Judging from Facebook comments, the Alpenhorn is a major hit — many local residents post their gleeful thanks each spring when the seasonal restaurant finally opens up for the summer.

Watson also owns Watson’s Harverene Resort, located across the street from the Alpenhorn, and he points out that fair prices and friendly workers are the keys to his success at both the resort and the restaurant. And, in recent years, the restaurant has also become an outdoor music venue, hosting a couple of weekends of live bands on the restaurant’s “Outback” stage. It’s just one more way the Alpenhorn keeps drawing those loyal customers.

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