Black Forest Bakery and Black Forest Coffee: A Tale of Two Cups

After an early pre-breakfast trip on Saturday to the behemoth that is Northwest Highway Half Price Books, Roasted couldn't resist walking across the street to Henk's European Deli & Black Forest Bakery. It was just after 9, and the tables in the quaint restaurant/bakery/deli and European market were packed with folks grazing on plates of eggs and waffles.

But, on Saturday, Roasted was in a hurry and we just wanted some pastries. So, instead of grabbing a table, we picked out a few delicacies from the pastry case and headed to the cash register up front. That's when the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee hit Roasted's nose.

Roasted asked the cashier if the restaurant/bakery, who also runs Black Forest Coffee in the Half Price Books across the street, serves coffee to go. With lightening-fast speed, the gentleman working the register rang me up for a cup and shot off to the other side of the restaurant, returning with a Styrofoam of steaming hot, fresh-brewed coffee.

And, as Roasted pulled out of Henk's and onto Northwest Highway, we drove past a Starbucks Coffee across the street from the bookstore. The parking lot was packed and the drive-thru line was six cars deep. Roasted couldn't help but think we got faster service. But, clearly, the drive-thru was popular, so we wondered how having the Starbucks across the street had affected Henk's and Black Forest Coffee.

Turns out, not very much at all.

It seems that Henk's and Black Forest Coffee both retain loyal customers who keep coming back for the German food (in the restaurant only), deli sandwiches, fresh-baked pastries and cakes, and, yeah, the coffee.

But, while many of the the same food and baked goods are served at the two Black Forest locations, the coffee is where their paths diverge. The brew served inside Henk's is a "medium roast of 100 percent Arabica beans," but that was all the information Roasted managed to get from co-owner Hubertus Winnubst when asked about the coffee.

"People like it," he said. "And it is pretty cheap."

He meant the $1.25 price for a 16 oz. Styrofoam cup, which is pretty hard to beat. The coffee's good, and very drinkable, but tastes more like a "mild" than a "medium." A bit of cream and sugar made the brew a better pairing with the pastries -- like the amazingly gooey apple strudel.

Hubertus and his brother Adrian Winnubst opened Henk's European Deli &
Black Forest Bakery in February 1991. Then they opened the bookstore portion of the business in the summer of '99.

"Half Price Books asked us to open a shop there," Hubertus said. "We didn't think we could do it." But, then he said the folks at the bookstore -- many of whom, including the owners, were regulars at Henk's -- showed the brothers the space where the coffee shop would go.

"We got to thinking it would draw attention to us back here," Hubertus said, explaining that they envisioned the coffee shop venture on a very busy Northwest Highway as a worthwhile long-term investment as long as it broke even.

And, after a decade of doing business tucked in a front corner of the gigantic bookstore, Hubertus said the Black Forest Coffee has done better than break even. It's helped that the shop's regulars weren't tempted to defect to the Starbucks when it went in across the street a few years back.

On Monday morning, we decided to stop by Black Forest Coffee (bookstore) for a visit. The shop's manager of seven years, Belinda Biggerstaff, explained that the shop -- thanks in a large part to its nearby namesake -- has a "cult-like following" of regulars. After all, there are lots of folks who would rather have a well-pulled shot from the shop's candy-apple red Astoria Sibilla espresso machine rather than the automatic robo-machine used by Starbucks.

The coffee shop naturally gets traffic from folks  perusing the bookstore, but it's also a big lunch draw in the area, which Biggerstaff attributes to the shop's selection of deli sandwiches, espresso-based drinks and mouth-watering pastries from its namesake bakery, like the Black Forest cake or the popular fruit-topped Swiss Madrissa.

The coffee shop brews up an assortment of beans from Dallas-based Daily Java, and the beans that Henk's brewed didn't have the character of  the Viennese Blend that Black Forest Coffee had on tap on Monday morning.

Instead of trying the coffee shop's other selections (House Blend or Mexican Vanilla), Roasted ordered some espresso just to see the Astoria in action. It tasted rich and smooth with just the right hint of bitterness offset by the beautiful foamy crema on top. 

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Daniel Rodrigue
Contact: Daniel Rodrigue