HEIDELBERG PASTRY SHOPPE

Established in 1975, just down the street from their current location, Heidelberg Bakery was started by Wolfgang Buchler for one very simple reason. “It was for me,” he said, “In America, I could not find any good bread.” As our interview with Wolfgang and his wife Carla unfolded it became apparent that this motivation for Wolfgang was among many other factors. But you cannot deny that bread is at the foundation of Heidelberg Bakery. We heard about their passion for the community and for the relationships that they’ve forged over the years. We heard about the cultural and regulatory challenges of running a business for over 30 years. And we left with a greater understanding and appreciation for local businesses like Heidelberg Bakery and how they have changed the Lee Highway community for the better.

 

The story of Heidelberg Bakery undoubtedly begins with a plane ride on August 2, 1969. The plane that carried Wolfgang Buchler from his hometown of Heidelberg Bakery to John F. Kennedy Airport touched down on a typical August day in New York. Wolfgang recalled the moment the plane doors swung open,  “I thought I died. I thought jeez did I land in Africa?” Buchler immigrated from Germany and brought with him the baking style and essence of his home town of Heidelberg, Germany. Exposing Arlingtonians to preservative-free, healthy bread, Wolfgang recalled several of his first customers bringing bread back because it would mold. Carla shared, “In the 70’s, an exotic bread was a french bread so switching over to the rye breads, hearty breads and seeded breads [was not normal]. Now it’s different. People are exposed to [these breads] and I think more international with their tastes.”

 

But this isn’t the only change the Buchler’s shared with us that has impacted their business over the years. A big challenge for their bakery has been a shift to a younger, more transient community. Older customers would call ahead with their big orders and return on a consistent basis. Younger customers, on the other hand, shop around, undermining the loyalty Heidelberg has relied upon. And calling ahead is something that has become the exception. “You guys don’t need to plan anymore, you have all your things on here [points to iPhone].”

 

Carla and Wolfgang also were able to share what makes their business so special; both for them and for their customers. Wolfgang shared when speaking about how they have tried to retain employees over the years that, “I work with my people. With people, it’s not a number. I want the best for you and you want the best for me.” Carla shared, “We have had some people 20, 30, 40 years. Sometimes they just leave because they turn 80 years old and can’t work anymore.” She also shared that they will have customers come back after several years after having left for college or moving out of town and reflect on the sense of community they experience at Heidelberg Bakery. “Arlington is sometimes transient and people sometimes don’t have something to come home to. But they know that they come here and it feels like their childhood or like visiting family and I think that’s really nice.”

Heidelberg Bakery Interview Highlights - Virginia Tech
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“I like to accomplish things. There’s something in me. I’m not the type of person that will just [say], ‘ok I’m going to make my donuts.’ I had a lot of initiative.” At first he shared that he was going to go into partnership with another baker but when they sat down with the lawyer his partner backed out, “and it was in that moment that I knew I wanted to start my own business...I just knew I didn’t want to work my whole life for somebody."  Wolfgang Buchler

“Its hard to get employees who want to work and can live close enough to be able to work. So I think affordable housing is a big challenge. And having a variety of people living in Arlington rather than just people who can afford million dollar homes.” Carla Buchler

“We get letters...customers move away and they send us cards. Arlington is sometimes transient and people sometimes don’t have something to come home to but they know that they come here and it feels like their childhood or like visiting family and I think that’s really nice.”

Carla Buchler

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    Wolfgang and Carla Buchler, The Arlington Connection
Photo credits: (left to right)

1) Shop exterior by Yelp user 'Keith E.'; 2) Live German music by Yelp user 'Igor B.';  3) Cookies by Yelp user 'Joel N.'; 4) Wedding cake by Yelp user 'Lavon P.'; 5) Bakery by Yelp user 'Keith E.';6) Wolfgang and Carla Buchler by The Arlington Connection

Full Interview on Arlington’s WERA 96.7 

Created 2017 by Virginia Tech UAP in the NCR

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