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From Cyber-Store to Culinary Destination: GermanDeli.com

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By Dotty Griffith
Those Germans. They love to put stuff in tubes, says Inga Bowyer. “Stuff” such as white sauce, mustard, or a combination of ketchup and mayonnaise that spurts out like toothpaste in ribbons of red and white. Frau Bowyer ought to know. She presides over the Southlake outlet store that has become a popular shopping destination for those who crave sausages made from Old World recipes, imported marzipan confections, Dr. Oetker baking mixes, potato dumplings…and condiments in tubes.

How did a small online store become a touchy-feely shopping experience that often includes a famed German chef doing in-store demonstrations?

Co-owners Inga and her sister, Gina Green, started with a longing for some of the German foods they enjoyed as kids growing up with a German-born mother and G.I. father. They launched their Internet store in 1999 with about 100 products in a 500-square-foot warehouse. The shipping department consisted of a single folding table.

Many of their customers have a similar background. Typical GermanDeli.com shoppers are women born in Germany who married American men and moved here, or couples who worked or were stationed in Germany, and their offspring. “People tell us if their German grandmothers had it, they have to have it, too,’’ says Inga. “It’s really so much about the memories.’’

Today, the warehouse covers 16,000 square feet and supplies some 5,000 products through Internet orders and the company’s outlet store. GermanDeli.com ships to all 50 states as well as to APO addresses.

“We love to ‘soldier-size’ shipments to military personnel serving overseas. Any package being shipped to an APO address gets extra goodies as a gift from us,” says Inga. “We always include a card signed by our entire staff.”

No matter who buys or receives the orders, which range from Gummi candies to bratwurst, the German products inevitably inspire thoughts of home, childhood, and comfort food.

German-born chef Uwe Rudnick, executive chef at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Dallas, frequently cooks at the store, offering classes, tastes, and how-to’s with imported ingredients—his own taste of home, if you will.

True German-food fans won’t want to miss one of the many festivals held at the store, including Kartoffel Fest, an annual August event, when Chef Uwe presents “Potato 101” and crowns the Kartoffel König or Königin (Potato King or Queen) after his or her potato dish is named the “best in the land” by local judges. He’ll be talking sausage during Oktoberfest this fall and dishing about sweet treats during the Christmas season, the store’s busiest time. (Scroll to bottom for specific dates.)

Often, customers get downright emotional about their favorite German products. “They will literally be standing here in the aisle with tears streaming down their faces,’’ says Inga. Nothing like a box of Kartoffelpuffers (potato pancakes) mix to bring a grown woman to her knees.

Or a bag of Erdnuss-Flips, a peanut butter-flavored snack similar in appearance and texture to Cheetos.

Or Kinder Schokolade, milk chocolates traditionally touted as “additional calcium” for children’s diets.

Or “more potent” Dutch licorice.

Or Fanta soft drinks made in Germany that are neither as sweet nor as candy-colored as their American-produced cousins.

The store is so well-stocked, says Inga, that travelers returning from Germany stop on their way home from DFW airport to pick up food gifts. “They tell us they’d rather buy it here than schlep it through airports,’’ laughs Inga.

She works the front of the store while Gina, a quieter version of her sister, spends much time on her office computer arranging shipments. The sisters travel to Germany a couple times a year to find new lines. Of course, they go to trade shows, but they’ve found that visiting German supermarkets produces the best retail intelligence. “We watch what people are buying over there,’’ says Inga.

They also keep customers’ requests in mind when they go. Although it may take up to five years to get some asked-for products, they don’t give up. “We keep all requests in a file,” says Inga. And they’re constantly searching for products and suppliers.

Inga’s husband, Jim Bowyer, is the architect of GermanDeli.com’s proprietary order-processing system that insures online customers get exactly what they’ve ordered.

That’s important because a shopping list at GermanDeli.com can be quite varied. Customer favorites include liqueur-filled chocolates, Gummibären (Gummi candies), hot-and-sweet mustards, German flour and other baking products, beer-vinegar, teas, and coffees.

Coffee? From Germany? Yes, says Inga. While Germans like robust flavor, they don’t like high acid. Low-acidity is what makes the German brands popular.

Since not everyone agrees on what “authentic” tastes like, Inga and Gina stock two kinds of Dr. Oetker Black Forest cake baking mixes. Only savvy customers understand why there might be, for example, two boxes of what looks like the same Dr. Oetker cake mix side-by-side with one costing considerably more.

Some customers prefer the original formula of the cake used in Germany (more expensive to import) while others like the sweeter Canadian-made version designed for American tastes. So GermanDeli.com stocks both, despite the difference in cost. Jawohl! The power of the Euro over the dollar.

Virtually every product on the shelves fills someone’s special order. For example, says Gina, explaining the selection of imported flours, “Some people swear the flour from Germany is the only one that works for their bread.’’ Sauerkraut canned in Germany isn’t nearly as strong as American brands, so there’s a big following for imported pickled cabbage, as well. And, of course, pickles. German pickles tend to be sweeter and not as garlicky as American pickles.

Salad dressing packets are also popular, especially for cucumber salad, a traditional German dish. Butter made in Germany is another big seller. Goose fat, a common spread for bread in Bavaria, doesn’t have nearly as many fans, but for those with a taste for it, nothing else will do.

Famous Westphalia hams (German prosciutto) are the only imported meat products offered. Others, such as sausages and cold cuts, are made in the states by well-known producers such as Siegi’s Sausage Factory of Tulsa, Oklahoma, using traditional German recipes.

Since beginning a business about which Inga says they “knew nothing,” the sisters have survived the dot-com bust and the shipping disruptions caused by 9/11. GermanDeli.com has expanded beyond their wildest dreams.

Now their dreams are even wilder. “One of our plans is to open a place where we can serve food,’’ says Inga. Gina agrees that a beer garden dances in their heads at night.

If enjoying one’s work is an ingredient of success, the sisters are well-stocked. “We love getting up and going to work because it doesn’t feel like work,’’ says Gina with an enthusiastic smile.

Read 19301 times Last modified on Friday, 13 July 2012 13:06

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