- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

Wolfgang Buchler arrived in the United States from his native Germany in 1969 with big ideas about starting his own business but no solid prospects.
He was 21, with no English skills. He had just $400 in his pockets, few connections where he landed in Northern Virginia, and the warnings of his buddies back in Heidelberg still rang in his ears.
You'll never make it, they said. You will be back.
"My first year was the roughest," says Mr. Buchler, 53. "I didn't speak the language, and I didn't have many friends." He forced himself to avoid German speakers in order to learn the language. Within six months, Mr. Buchler was fluent in English.
After working for several years as an apprentice pastry chef at the now-defunct Seibt's Bakery in Tysons Corner, Mr. Buchler opened the Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe at its first Arlington, Va., location in 1975.
The space had previously been rented as a guitar shop, so he built a kitchen himself, starting with only a few thousand dollars worth of equipment.
"On my first day open, we sold out," he recalls. "I was very surprised at all the business we had. Since I couldn't afford to hire many employees, I worked for the entire first week with only a few hours of sleep."
The bakery brought success in Mr. Buchler's personal life as well. He remembers the day Carla Johnson, formally trained as a ballet dancer, came in and applied for a part-time job.
"On her first day, Carla cut her hand on the bread slicer. She had to go to the hospital, and I was afraid I'd never see her again," he says. When Carla came right back to work after receiving a few stitches, Mr. Buchler knew she was the right woman for him.
"In Germany we bakers have an expression that in order to meet the perfect person, you'd have to bake them yourself. Well, I couldn't have baked a better partner," says Mr. Buchler.
The Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe is truly a family affair. Mr. Buchler's wife, Carla, serves as a hostess and manager, and their two children, Alexander, 20, and Tatiana, 15, have worked in the shop as well.
When asked how he likes working with his wife, he says he truly enjoys it.
Carla Buchler, 43, agrees.
"It's nice, because we can make time to eat lunch or breakfast together, and we share the same experiences," she says. "At the same time, it's a challenge, because you're always together."
After thirteen years in the same location, Wolfgang and Carla Buchler sought to expand their business and found a new site a few blocks up the road, at Lee Highway and Culpeper Street.
In 1987, they bought the land and built their 12,000-square-foot bakery from the ground up. The Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe is unique among local bakeries, boasting 30 different kinds of breads, dozens of types of pastries, a European deli, and hand-made chocolates.
Employing more than 50 bakers and salespeople, the Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe has become a local institution. This year, projected sales should top $2 million.
One of the most delectable treats at the bakery are the chocolate truffles. Mr. Buchler imports dozens of 10-pound slabs of fine Belgian chocolate. The chocolate is then melted down, shaped with candy molds, and filled with nuts, flavored cream, or liqueur. The Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe goes through more than 20,000 pounds of chocolate every year.
On fair Saturdays, visitors can sample different kinds of sausages and wurst, served German style with sauerkraut on homemade rolls. The Buchlers import grains and flour directly from Germany to make several of their breads.
Mr. Buchler's day starts at 1 a.m., when he begins baking rolls and cakes. As the day progresses, he decorates cakes with colored icing.
"This is my favorite part," he says, as he deftly pipes pink icing in the shape of a rosebud. The bakery produces about 15 wedding cakes a week, in addition to smaller birthday and sheet cakes. In the wedding season, he often bakes upward of 30 cakes a week.
Mr. Buchler works almost 80 hours a week at the bakery, but doesn't seem to mind the sacrifice. "I really love what I do," he says. "I'm continually thinking of ways to improve. I call at least 10 customers a week and ask them if they liked the products, so I get a lot of good feedback."
One of the Buchlers' goals is to make the Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe a place where everyone feels welcome. "We really have a small-town feeling in a big city," says Mrs. Buchler. "We've watched so many kids grow up and bring their own children here."
As Valentine's Day approaches, Mr. Buchler is focusing on making hundreds of heart-shaped petit fours, cakes, and chocolates. With 72 hours notice, customers can have a color portrait of their loved one printed by a special computer onto a chocolate "painting," complete with dark-chocolate picture frame. "There is a lot of art in baking," says Mr. Buchler. Photograph cakes are also available, using the same specialized machine, which cost almost $18,000.
Mr. Buchler has no plans to open another location.
"I find that if you're not there, the quality suffers," he says.


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