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Swiss food pioneer dies at 95

Meritxell Mir · 18 Oct 2011, 11:42

Published: 18 Oct 2011 14:28 GMT+02:00
Updated: 18 Oct 2011 11:42 GMT+02:00

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Ueli Prager, the founder of the Swiss hotel and restaurant group Mövenpick, died on Saturday at the age of 95, according to his family.

Prager was one of Switzerland’s most renowned businessman and, like most pioneers, he was “open to everything,” the family said.

Born in Wiesbaden (Germany) to a Swiss family, he opened his first restaurant in Zurich in 1948, The Mövenpick.

The Mövenpick kicked off what would become one of his biggest revolutions in Switzerland: offering healthy food at relatively low prices and with fast service. He used to explain that he got the idea when he saw a man quickly feeding the seagulls in the Lake of Zurich with pieces of bread.

Business success came rapidly, and new eateries were opened in Lucerne, Geneva and Lugano.

By 1965, Prager had opened his first restaurant abroad, in Germany.

Soon after, the doors of the first hotel of the group opened: the Jolie Ville Motor Inn in Zurich. The first international hotel venture was launched in 1975 with an opening in Egypt, near the Giza pyramids. It was the first of many hotels to be located outside the Swiss borders.

But for the Swiss fast food pioneer that was not enough.

The first Mövenpick brand was for coffee, and was launched onto the market in 1963. Six years later it was the turn of his world-famous ice-cream brand.

Three decades after the company’s birth, Mövenpick was trading in the Swiss stock market as a hotel, restaurant, food and wine company.

But as Prager aged, the company began to disintegrate.

In 1988, 40 years after the first opening, Prager stepped down as managing director and his wife Jutta took over.

In 1992, the company was sold to Augst von Finck, a German businessman, who sold the ice-cream brand to Nestlé and removed Mövenpick from the stock market in 2007 to turn it, once again into a family-run business.

The news broke Prager’s heart and he said at the time: “Mövenpick of today is no longer my Mövenpick".

In the 1990s, Prager and his wife moved near London, even though they kept a castle in Silvaplana, a small village in Graubünden, where they used to spend extended periods of time.

What started as a one-man business had, at the time of the Swiss food icon's death, more than 18,000 employees around the world, 68 restaurants, 38 hotels and a dozen motorway restaurants.

Meritxell Mir (news@thelocal.ch)

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