A Taste of Germany Nestled in the ‘Middle of Nowhere’
Gerold and Christa Schroeder packed up their lives and said goodbye to their family, knowing they’d likely never see them again. Gerold wanted a life of freedom for his family — void of the daily harshness and religious restrictions they endured living in a post-World War II East Germany.
And while they dreamed of immigrating to the United States, eventually landing in Salt Lake City in 1981, they never imagined that two of their daughters would one day open a small German cafe in Spring City — “the middle of nowhere Utah” — that would garner adoration all the way back in their native country.
Caroline Lott and Katy Harmer — two of the Schroeder’s eight children — launched Das Café in 2011 on Spring City’s quaint and artsy main street. The Schroeders had recently faced challenges and tragedy that might break most families, but they found refuge and healing in banding together to bring something special to their community.
“Caroline came knocking on my door one day and said the building across the street was for rent. She looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to do this cafe with or without you’,” said Katy, retelling the moment her sister stood in her doorway and decided they needed to make good on a lifelong dream.
“Everybody told us we couldn’t do this — there would be no way we would make it,” Caroline said. “But to me, if I do something I want to do it with all my heart and all my soul. I want to do it with purpose and I want people to love it.”
So the sisters and their husbands, and their parents, Gerold (Opa) and Christa (Oma), and others started renovating the “nightmare of a building,” which had served as a home to everything from a candy store to a smoke shop. They tore out bar stools, cabinets and seven layers of flooring. They didn’t qualify for traditional financing, so Caroline leveraged her paid-off Nissan and got some money from the bank. That took care of renovation costs, appliances tables and chairs. They still needed to buy $2,000 worth of food so they could open. In stepped Gerold with the cash to help his daughters and off they went.
“My dad was always our biggest supporter,” Caroline said. “He loved bringing in the German traditions, and he and our mom were always such a presence in the cafe.”
Nowadays, Das Café (which means “The Café” in German) is the local hangout, loved by a town of less than 900 people, with regulars popping in every day and tourists visiting from all over the world. (Read: Gleaning a Small Town’s Harvest)
The menu is stacked with traditional German cuisine, offered with a sprinkle of American fare: bratwurst and sauerkraut, kraut burger, brat on a pretzel bun, reuben sandwich, German sausage with eggs and potatoes, Opa’s omelette, soups and bread, Belgian waffles, and the “Big Max”, an open-faced sandwich on sourdough rye, with eggs, ham, swiss cheese and sauerkraut.
And the signature dishes? Traditional potato salad and carrot cake. “Our menu is straight up the recipes from our dad and the way that he always liked to make breakfast,” Katy said. “Sometimes I laugh at this little gem we’ve created, because this is just basically what I grew up eating.”
German tourists who come to Das Café were told back home that if they visited Utah, “they had to come to Spring City to get authentic, German food — it’s crazy,” Caroline said, noting they’ve never actually advertised, save for the magic of word-of-mouth and the Facebook page that local potter Joe Bennion (a Das Café superfan) started years ago.
“Das Café is real food made from scratch with a strong family tradition — this is not a franchise,” said Bennion, who makes coffee mugs for the cafe from his shop, Horseshoe Mountain Pottery, just down the street.
“It’s authentic food made from people who learned how to do it in their momma’s kitchen: They know what to do with butter and bacon,” Bennion said, adding that the schnitzel is his favorite meal at the cafe and that they serve the best reuben ... anywhere.
Part of what makes Das Café so inviting is its realness. It’s like walking into a well-loved home — furniture with knick knacks, and paintings and artwork adorning the walls from local artists. Each afternoon the sisters’ kids come sprinting through the front door, book bags in tow, chattering and laughing. The older kids help out on the weekends and during the summer, and the cafe staff and owners vacation together. It’s a family.
In 2018, Gerold passed away. He had been the sisters’ inspiration for starting the cafe, having always wanted one of his own fueled by his passion for cooking, baking and coming up with creative recipe ideas. Gerold modeled courage for his family by standing up to the East German government (he had been jailed for his outspokenness) and through his perseverance in finding a better life for his family in part on grounds of religious freedom (being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was severely frowned upon in East Germany in those days).
“The cafe has definitely changed in a way since he passed,” Caroline said. “He may not be here physically, but I guess in a deeper way his presence shines through us and obviously he’s the reason we’re doing this. I think that comes through to the community and visitors who come here.”
More Info on Das Café
Location & General Info
33 N. Main St.
Spring City, Utah 84662
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Open Tuesday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. | Closed Sundays and Mondays and the week between Christmas and New Year’s
Why Spring City?
Gerold Schroeder was an electrician by trade and had opened a motor and machine repair shop in Salt Lake City after the family arrived in the United States. Years later he befriended a fellow German, a chiropractor, who lived in Spring City and sang its praises of beauty and simplicity. The Schroeders visited the small town and fell in love, moving there in 1991.
Spring City is mostly ranchers, farmers and artists. It sits one mile east of U.S. 89, 10 miles from Ephram and is situated beneath the beautiful and dramatic Wasatch Plateau.
The entire town is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places as it was an early settlement in the mid-1800s of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and saw an influx of Danes who brought Scandanavian architecture.
It is well preserved with an abundance of religious buildings, homes, and small commercial establishments that predate World War I, according to The Friends of Historic Spring City.
Spring City, Utah
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