After 20 years as a bakery and a decade as a cafe and restaurant, German bakery Guglhupf is loosening the top button of its collar and raising a frothy beer mug.
Known for intricate pastries and breads and as a weekend brunch hot spot, Guglhupf is turning its afternoon and dinner service into more of a German biergarten kind of vibe.
In an era of dining where casual is king, co-founder and owner Claudia Kemmet-Cooper worries that evenings at Guglhupf can come across as stuffy. The bakery started in 1998 and expanded to a cafe in 2004, with dinner coming along in 2009, though little about the building had changed. The time had come to shake things up, she said. More than anything, that meant adding a bar.
“I’m a bar diner,” Kemmet-Cooper said. “I think it gives off a more casual vibe. You can’t be a biergarten without a bar. ... It’s hard to do if you don’t have a bar. At night it wasn’t right; it didn’t feel right anymore.”
The new Guglhupf bar runs along the wall of the two-story dining room, backed up by windows looking out on an expansive patio. Kemmet-Cooper calls it Gugi-land, tucked off of the Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, the modernist building of metal, wood, glass and angles becoming its own kind of secluded oasis trading in life’s finer things, namely cakes, sausages and beer.
Something happened, Kemmet-Cooper said, when Guglhupf first started serving dinner in 2009. It fell in with fine dining.
Perhaps it was the entrees that exceeded $20 or the romantically dim setting, but Kemmet-Cooper said Guglhupf may have felt less approachable than her ideal. Now, she said it’s closer than ever.
“We were kicked into the fine dining category,” Kemmet-Cooper said. “There’s nothing wrong with that label, but with the development (in Durham) and the economy, fine dining is just kind of ... gone. Having the outside area, the bar, I think that’s what it should be. For me it’s really exciting, it’s finally at its best.”
Guglhupf was never a teetotaler, but now the bar is an anchor and stage for its evolving list of libations.
Draft beer expands from just a handful of options to a dozen, mostly German, but with more taps for American craft beer, including locals like Trophy Brewing in Raleigh, plus a Cava and a cider. Guglhupf’s bottled beer list has stood out in the area for offering many German styles hard to come by. But as draft becomes the focus, the bottles will be pared down to a few from Germany and Belgium and the United States.
Kemmet-Cooper said wines will continue to focus on Germany and Austria, but be more approachable. If you’re looking for something special, she said she still has that, a bottle list she calls her secret stash. Also there are more bottles of liquor and craft cocktails.
“I don’t know, something about approaching middle-age, I needed a bar and needed more brown liquor,” Kemmet-Cooper said.
For food, Kemmet-Cooper said it could appear stark to move from the casualness of lunch at the cafe to dinner. To bridge the two Guglhupf has added a “brotzeit” menu, essentially bread with charcuterie and cheese, including cured meats and house-made smoked bluefish, pickled trout and mushroom pate. Dinner also adds more small plates and keeps many of the classics.
“Now you can nosh all the way through the afternoon and into dinner,” Kemmet-Cooper said.
In the 20 years of Guglhupf, Durham’s dining scene has become the city’s calling card, led especially by its downtown. When she started, Kemmet-Cooper, who trained in Germany, said people asked if her bakery carried any biscuits. It didn’t, but she said no one seems to mind anymore.
“In 1998, we were the most exotic thing in town,” Kemmet-Cooper said. “Now downtown happened and more and more areas developed, there’s the need for what’s fun and what the audience wants. It’s exciting now you can do so much more and there’s an audience who will probably embrace it.”
But sometimes that audience, especially newcomers flooding into the area, don’t think to look beyond downtown. Kemmet-Cooper said the Boulevard, as she calls it, can feel like the “red-headed stepchild.” With the refresh she hopes to bring new life to one of Durham’s stawarts entering its third decade.
“When I arrived, (downtown) was boarded up,” Kemmet-Cooper said. “I’ll never forget driving through it for the first time. It was shocking. It’s exciting what’s happened, the energy and excitement of downtown. It’s always going to be vibrant, but it’s a bit of a commitment. We have our niche. We have Gugi-land. It’s a whole sensory experience. ... What I would love to be is the neighborhood place.”