The woman who brought Munich to Durham. Imagine a German baker. She s tall, thin and brunette, her hair tied back with a thick,

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Imagine a German baker. She’s tall, thin and brunette, her hair tied back with a thick, polka-dot headband that leaves a few wisps to frame her jawline. Her face is decorated with a subtle smile that lifts her high cheekbones, a look that gives off an undeniable air of certainty and control despite the sparkle in her brown eyes. Light freckles dance on her nose as it crinkles, and she bites her bottom lip in concentration. The apron that wraps around her waist becomes

saturated with flour dust as she kneads dough and laughs with her staff, saying to you with a twinge of an accent, “I can’t describe it. I’m just a dough person.” You can believe Claudia Kemmet-Cooper has a kind heart and loves what she does. But you should also believe she’s created a miniature German empire in North Carolina, with her top-rated cafe, bakery, biergarten and bar aptly named after one of her favorite cakes she learned to make back home, Guglhupf.

Claudia spent her time in Heilbronn, Germany, cooking for her family, each meal using fresh ingredients from her grandparents’ garden. She was surrounded by bakers, grocers, cheese shops and farmers markets, and she began to fall in love with the idea of taking local,

homegrown food and using it as a philosophy to live by. Meals were a sign of hospitality, food was a communal social event and dinners were glimpses into the soul. But no – she didn’t wake up one day and decide to bring German culture to Durham, North Carolina. Perfecting the craft of food in her country is different from what we experience in the States, she tells you, with a lengthy process that begins as early as 10th grade. Students go through apprenticeships until they work their way up to being masters of their trade. These high-level professionals are the only people allowed to educate others in the culinary world. “They know their stuff,” says Claudia. Instead of choosing this track, she decided to travel to America after high school to attend Hood


College in Maryland and study international economics, hoping for a career in the trade industry. But opening a bakery was always in the back of her mind, the idea tapping at her heart each time she caught a whiff of bread rising in the early morning or ordered a pastry that reminded her of home, the way that its buttery flakes crunched in her mouth.

She took a chance on her heart after spending six weeks in the corporate world. Her creative soul was screaming inside her cubicle, so Claudia moved back to Germany to work in a Munich bakery for two years after college. “I knew I was going to leave the country, so I didn’t need to be officially certified, and the bakery was extremely helpful with all my endeavors,” she says. Here she was, a woman in her 20s who had already gotten her degree in economics, having missed the window for the European apprenticeship program and getting independent training at a bakery. So naturally, as one might be drawn to do in a post-graduation crisis, Claudia kept it all hidden from her family, whom she assumed would call her crazy. The kitchen was what kept her sane as it wrapped her up in its hectic embrace in the moments she least expected it to.

After finally letting her family in on her dreams, she wasn’t expecting their outpour of support. “It made a lot of sense to them,” she says with a shrug. “I guess mothers really do know their children.” And with that, she took a leap of faith and moved back to America to open a German bakery that would make its debut in 1998. As for the location decision, Claudia tells you she made a list. She knew the most important criteria: no landlocked states because she wanted easy access to the coast, the weather had to be bearable, nothing too expensive – so no big cities, and Florida has alligators. The Triangle, she says, was perfect. The people were educated, many were international, and she believed that having the three developed cities so closely attached presented an opportunity for growth. “And I was right,” she chuckles. At the time, Claudia


couldn’t have guessed her Bull City bakery would occupy two cities in the Triangle, birthing a smaller Chapel Hill pastry shop after it grew too large for its Durham walls.

When she settled on the spacious building on Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard with exposed brick and factory-like windows, Durham was not the foodie destination it is today. The organic and slow food movements were just beginning in the 1990s. Saturday mornings weren’t yet occupied by trips to the farmers market for daisies and blueberries, and restaurants hadn’t begun to use local ingredients as an enticement for customers with the word printed proudly at the top of the menu. “There was nothing more entertaining than to go to a supermarket and look at the food,” Claudia says, remembering the drastic transition from Munich to the Triangle. “Every cheese was vacuum-packed, speckled or bright orange.” Some things have changed since then – the dining scene has grown, the audience is more experimental. When the reign of

Guglhupf began, it was probably one of the most exotic food places in Durham, she tells you, though the developing city now brings thousands of customers to restaurants serving anything from chicken and waffles to tapas and craft beer. “Now, everything is a go,” she says. “It allows for all the different specialties, and the more we get of it, the better.”

Durham’s evolution wasn’t all she had to get used to. She says Americans often have horrible stereotypes about German food, thinking of only greasy bratwurst and soggy sauerkraut served with a giant beer by a woman with pigtail braids. But of course, Claudia had similar misconceptions, thinking American food culture could be explained in a few short words – hamburgers, steak and cowboy hats. “Part of the problem is there is no unified German cuisine, just like there’s no American cuisine,” she says. While the Triangle has quickly become a Yelp-lover’s paradise with critically acclaimed restaurants on every street corner, it’s nothing


each area of the world always reflects the people who live there.” Claudia started eating Greek, Spanish, Italian and Turkish food as a labor shortage brought citizens of those countries to her German home. She feels more exposed to different cuisines now – but Durham isn’t quite there yet. She’s still waiting for a fantastic Turkish restaurant to open up in the city. “If you drive two hours from here, you’re in North Carolina,” she says. “If you drive two hours from where I’m from, you’re in France.”

That’s part of the appeal of Guglhupf. We’re used to football on Friday nights, beach trips on summer weekends and Southern cooking for any holiday of the year. We’re comfortable in our North Carolina familiar, and we often forget to appreciate the inherent beauty in the difference around us. Guglhupf is not only a hub for all things modern and German; it’s also an international melting pot that draws in those from near and far. Claudia says there’s tension within German chefs and bakers between the traditional and the modern, the familiar and the new. It’s an age-old struggle – those who want to carry on past successes and honor their ancestors are at war with the younger entrepreneurs and creators who see beauty in a changing future. Claudia doesn’t see it as an unsolvable conflict – in fact, she embraces the clash between these philosophies and incorporates it into Guglhupf’s modern spins on classic German dishes. Customers expecting meaty, traditional dishes are surprised by the inclusion of vegan items on the menu, such as their körner salat with broccoli and smoked carrot puree. Claudia always made maultaschen ravioli with meat when cooking with her grandmother, but on the menu, it’s seen with cheese, pumpkin and onion. She cuts down on the heaviness of Bavarian fare with the brotzeit menu, or “bread time,” which features bread and cheese plates with beer and wine for customers coming in between lunch and dinner. But this ongoing rivalry is especially


The drive to the restaurant is ridden with the concrete plague – gas stations, fast food joints, used car lots and banks. At first glance, the restaurant looks as though it could fit right in with this Durham aesthetic. From the road, Guglhupf is a cream-colored building with a copper bull out front made from rusted gears, bolts and plates to pay homage to the city it sits in. “Gulghupf Bakery, Cafe & Restaurant” it reads in pink cursive lettering on the concrete wall, wooden beams framing crisscross patterns made of wire and foliage peeking out below the short, bare windows, almost hidden by the countless cars parked in the lot at 3 p.m. on a Sunday. Turning onto the pavement, you manage to find a space to squeeze into – and then you see it: the glorious biergarten. This is where city meets nature, where a meal on a plate meets a dining experience. While Durham restaurants are fond of these patios, Guglhupf takes the cake for design. The rust-colored theme carries through with a large, metal fixture at the entrance, and beams that meet to create a skylight effect over the tables. But there are also palm trees, yellow flowers, bushes with maroon leaves and draping vines spilling over the concrete onto the pathway. Claudia sees you staring in admiration and says, “It’s been a 20-year journey. We started as a bakery and just kept adding on and experimenting in different worlds.” You descend a few stairs to reveal what you can only assume would be the closest thing city slickers can get to a waterfall. Clear, sparkling water cascades down past concrete and metal poles, and its babbles drown out any honks and revs that would have escaped from the major road nearby. Red

umbrellas filter sunlight from the faces of outdoor diners, who you notice as everyone from older men in business suits drinking Americanos, to mothers with small children who chew spätzle with mouths wide open, to college-aged lovebirds speaking in a French symphony of words. “I hope we added a little bit of happiness to their day,” Claudia says. “It’s just always nice when they leave with a smile.”


Now it’s time to make a choice: bakery or cafe. The bakery sits in a smaller part of the building to the right and the cafe faces straight ahead, with more urban art sculptures and

greenery framing the glass doors. You’re eased of the decision when Claudia takes you inside the cafe first, speaking quickly in German to a colleague before switching back again and handing you a menu filled with items like a classic eggs benedict next to things you couldn’t begin to pronounce – schweinekroketten is a pork croquette dish and ausgefallen is knackwurst on a brezel roll. Guglhupf recently made the switch to serving their brunch food every day, which perhaps gives the less adventurous more peace of mind with the safety of ordering an omelet. Behind the pastry case, beer collection, espresso machine and glass shelves stocked with ingredients, a diligent kitchen staff works in a chorus line of pops and sizzles. They speak very quickly, joking around and helping one another with little tasks over billows of steam and the sharp clacks of knives hitting the cutting board. Claudia walks over to check in with them, solving what looks like a minor issue in a matter of seconds.

“Once you walk in these doors, you don’t really know what’s going to happen,” she says, gesturing to the heightened energy in the kitchen. “My routine revolves around whatever’s on fire.” She explains that the cafe was never planned, but that she’s learned a lot about the different parts of the culinary scene from expanding and building the restaurant, the bake shop in Chapel Hill, the biergarten, the bar – even the espresso menu opens Guglhupf up to the coffee world. This year, Gulghupf went through a total style rebrand, changing menus to optimize the dining experience Claudia envisioned. When asked if she has anything else up her sleeve, she laughs with a hint of exasperation. “I want to let it settle – we’re coming back to a focus of what works well for us and who we want to be,” she says. “We’re getting on up there. It all hurts a little more.”


The cafe is dimly lit, with bartenders serving up cocktails from their newly opened bar and tables scattered throughout the space for customers to sit and enjoy the instrumental music playing over the speakers. The bakery, on the other hand, has a much different ambiance. She brings you into a room with brighter, white lights and displays filled with breads, cakes and pastries. A painted shelf display that resembles a large bookcase features whole loaves of homemade bread, including anything from classic ciabatta to mehrkorn, a German rye and sunflower seed bread. Guglhupf’s famous brezels (pretzels) hang in rows beside the bread, and you peer behind them to see a baker working with a pale dough to form the signature shape a dozen more times on a pan. The cashier stands by another case filled with glistening apple tarts, decadent chocolate mounds and fresh panna cotta, all ripe for the picking. The chocolate cookies and cakes have simple, elegant designs on them, and a baker in the back holds a piping bag gushing with cream.

“I’m definitely not a decorator,” Claudia says. “It’s not the finesse of it for me. I can knead dough for hours and think it’s just marvelous, but if someone tells me to decorate their birthday cake, it’s like, ‘Oh God, no.’” She prefers texture over style, and doesn’t get satisfaction from doing one item start to finish. Mornings in the bakery are spent poring over pie crusts instead of pouring the fruity fillings into them. Claudia provides the foundation – in every sense of the term. “We’re only as good as we are as a unit,” she says. “We’re very protective as a team – a dysfunctional, amazing family.”

You want to focus in on the bakery items, since they’re her specialty. She lets you try a mandelhoernchen, which is a German horseshoe-shaped cookie made with almonds and marzipan and dipped in Belgian chocolate. It’s nothing less than heavenly, the crunch of the almonds contrasting with the unique sweetness of the marzipan. The chocolate coating at either


end of the cookie has been tempered and chilled, and its decadence leaves you sucking on the tips of your fingers to savor every last taste. Her next pick is the brezelstick with cheese, a fun twist on the classic brezel subs that hug Guglhupf’s bratwursts. The sub is cut open, layered with gobs of Swiss cheese and topped with paprika and poppy seeds. The brezel is salty – as it should be – and tickles your taste buds as the gooey, nutty cheese melts into the bread. It seems like hundreds of layers lie within the browned brezel, and they’re perfectly soft. It all blends together in harmony. As your mouth is agape with wonder, you ask Claudia how she stays grounded with all the praise from reviewers. “It’s always nice to hear someone tell you what the food means to them, but in the restaurant business, you don’t pat yourself on the back,” she says. “That lasts for that plate and then you’re onto the next one. There’s no resting moment – it changes tomorrow.”

Now picture our German baker once again. She stands proudly at the front of her creation, which has spiraled into something grander than she could have ever imagined. The place that was once a barren building in Durham is now the physical representation of a dream born in south Germany. It could have been executed anywhere – a Brooklyn street favorite or an Austin hot spot for festivalgoers. But Claudia Kemmet-Cooper chose Bull City, the home of Tobacco Road and old factory buildings turned apartment complexes. Guglhupf lies at the heart of this ever-evolving town, carrying on history by baking items like stollen – a Christmas loaf cake recipe dating back to the 1400s when the Catholic Church banned the use of butter and milk in Germany – but also constantly inventing contemporary twists with each turn of a spoon to create innovative dishes and master bold flavors. She has worked countless hours over the last 20 years to win multiple awards and single-handedly establish herself as the German cuisine queen in the Triangle. “But how can you not have fun with food?” she says with a grin.




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