German baker takes chance, opens shop in Texas

June 29, 2011 7:34:16 AM PDT
Call it the ultimate gamble. A baker -- a certified master baker, to be exact -- at the top of his game after 30 years of training and hard work. His wife, a nutrition specialist who ran the sales side of his bakery in Ulm, the kind of picturesque city in southern Germany that could lure any American with a photo or two in a travel magazine.

Three years ago, wanderlust tugged Jurgen and Brigitte Kazenmayer the other direction, bringing them to Padre Island.

"In Germany, it was always the same," said Jurgen, 47. "We like a little adventure."

More like warmth and beaches.

They whipped out a map of the United States and the name Corpus Christi caught their eye -- far enough south and along the Gulf of Mexico.

The seeds were sown for what would become JB's German Bakery & Cafe, Jurgen's dream of moving his bakery to America.

Plopping a daily fresh-baked slice of Germany into Padre Island's sands has proved a gamble that has paid off.

The road, to say the least, was long.

They got in touch with Paul Lozuk, an area real estate broker. They made a trek to Texas.

One look at Corpus and they were hooked.

"This is my town," said Brigitte, 50.

They looked on both sides of the John F. Kennedy Causeway and found a small storefront near Whitecap Boulevard topped with a dome on one end with a deck out back with boat slips.

"This building I saw the first time I was here and I wanted this," Brigitte said.

They signed the lease in December. The next few months took a giant leap of faith.

The Kazenmayers returned to start remodeling in January. The retrofit took a few trips and included shipping in a German wood oven in pieces and flying in a team of German professionals to install it.

All that had to happen before the U.S. government could even consider approving their visa applications.

May 13 was opening day, with nothing but an American, a Texan and a German flag flapping out front to announce the bakery.

Since then, the small parking lot fills early with a morning rush that builds during the week. On weekends, the line of people files out the door and their vehicles snake up South Padre Island Drive's shoulder.

Word bounced among German citizens, with those from as far afield as the Rio Grande Valley among the first through the doors.

Jurgen arrives at 1 a.m. to prepare, making dough and firing up the oven for a marathon baking session, finishing his homemade pretzels, breads, pies and cakes for the day by 7 a.m..

Their nine employees and the aroma do the rest. Experienced baker and businesswoman they may be, there's still a learning curve, like with kolaches.

Their first islander patrons arrived wanting that Czech breakfast staple, so Jurgen learned to make them and folded them into the breakfast menu.

The Kazenmayers expected to be busy but are amazed by the volume of business they do here compared to their bakery back home.

They hope to possibly bring in another German baker and expand their offerings to chocolates and other specialties.

The plan is as permanent as the massive Texas flag tattoo Jurgen has inked into his upper back, stamping his love for what he and Brigitte now consider home.

"It was his father's dream and then it was his dream," Brigitte said, patting her husband's shoulder. "Then it became my dream."

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