Because the bakery's basement-level public bathroom was only accessible through the back of the building, Dinkel's needed to relocate it. "We created a new bathroom in a 15-foot-deep by 10-foot-wide spot that formerly held a 60-year-old built-in refrigerator," Karl says. "Since we had to recoup this storage space, we bought a new walk-in refrigerator for the production area. This was much more accessible than the previous location."
Repurposing space also played a part in the second phase of the remodel, which involved converting back office space into the café kitchen. "This area had contained a display cooler and display freezer, with an adjacent room that was used for phone calls and cookie decorating," Karl says. "We realized that these areas weren't being used wisely, so the space was completely gutted."
Rather than a griddle, stove or hood, the rewired café kitchen features panini grills, a microwave, a two-door refrigerator, soup kettles and a refrigerated prep table. The only cooking equipment in this space is an induction cooktop used for sautéing vegetables.
The bakery production area, relocated behind the retail operation and café seating, takes up the most square footage in the operation. Seventy-five-year-old traveling tray ovens with 78- and 72-pan capacities dominate the space. Other equipment includes mixers and a new retarder/proofer that has helped Dinkel's increase efficiencies with bread production. The second floor contains the cake-decorating room, warewashing area and dough room.
"We still have a lot of older equipment here, but have been replacing units since the remodel," Karl says. "For example, we switched out a decades-old steam kettle with a new electric unit that heats up faster."
In purchasing new equipment, Karl looks for durable items made in the U.S. "We expect customers to buy our products, which aren't the cheapest, but are created by skilled bakers," Karl says. "We want to pay it back with our equipment purchases, so we look for American companies that have a good reputation and provide quality products. We will invest in equipment that will last for many years."
Once the café layout was configured, the concept came together. The European aesthetics feature a German flair with a two-tone color scheme of raspberry pink and tan, stained oak accents, wooden ceiling beams and a fireplace.
In terms of the menu, the goal was to keep it simple. "We're not out to be groundbreaking," Karl says. "We're a German bakery looking to supplement our business with traditional sandwiches."
Offerings include ham and Swiss cheese on a pretzel bun with stone-ground mustard, and a panini club sandwich with turkey, lettuce, tomato, bacon, apples and sun-dried tomato on sourdough bread. Dinkel's sources its meat from a butcher located a block from the restaurant. Each sandwich comes with a bag of chips and a pickle. Also on the menu are soups as well as simple, reduced-price offerings for kids. Recently, Dinkel's added two salads to the menu.
In its first year, Dinkel's has slowly rolled out a marketing plan tying in the bakery and café. This has included a free dessert with a sandwich purchase.
Labor represents one challenge in incorporating the café into the existing bakery operation. "There is always something to do in the bakery when it's not busy, but this isn't necessarily the case for our café staff," Karl says. "Now we have reallocated some baker tasks to the kitchen staff, and this has worked out really well." For example, the café staff now makes the quiche, which is baked off in the bakery.
Meeting the unique expectations of café customers, especially when the bakery and café share a checkout area, remains a key challenge. "Bakery items are typically ordered in advance and picked up, but it's a different scenario with restaurant customers, who are seeking a quick lunch break from work," Karl says.
To help expedite café service, Dinkels encourages customers to call in sandwich orders. "It's not a perfect system, and we're still trying to figure out the best way to handle it," Karl says.
After a year in business, the Dinkel's café continues to evolve without complications. The culinary staff plans to add seasonal sandwich, salad and soup specials as the company looks for unique ways to link the café and bakery.
With donut sales on the rise, Dinkel's is also considering purchasing new automatic donut fryers. And since the bakery does a fair amount of retail sales on site and at area supermarkets, Dinkel's will soon roll out new, sophisticated packaging. Also in the works is a sidewalk café that will increase seating to 60.
"Right now, we're trying to focus on getting the café profitable and driving business," Karl says. "Chicago used to have 8,000 bakeries, but many closed when supermarkets infiltrated the market. Now there's just a handful of us left in the area."