Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe owner Ralph Hofer stayed close to his German roots when he and his staff created their regionally, recognized bratwurst biscuits and gravy.
The plate, featuring Nuremberg-style bratwursts cooked into a creamy gravy and poured over hot buttermilk biscuits, was recently recognized by the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s tourism division. The dish earned a place on “100 Plates Locals Love” — a list of top favorite dining options across the state. To see the full list, visit www.exploregeorgia.org/article/100-plates-locals-love.
“We were really surprised and honored that the Georgia Department of Tourism thought that was one of the best plates,” Hofer said.
The bratwurst, biscuits and gravy have been on the menu at Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe about two years now.
“It was actually kind of funny, you know. You think you’re in Georgia, (but then you see) biscuits and gravy at a German restaurant?” he said.
The dish appeared at the Helen bakery after Hofer and his kitchen manager talked about adding more menu options. The pair wanted an item catering to local tastes.
“But we still kind of wanted to stay with the German theme,” Hofer said.
Since the bakery’s biscuits were already popular, Hofer suggested using them in a new recipe — biscuits, gravy and bratwurst.
“We tried several different recipes and came up with the one we use now. It’s gone over extremely well,” Hofer said.
In fact, it’s gone over so well his bakers often complain of trying to keep up with the biscuit orders. It’s also not uncommon to hear someone saying they’re out of buttermilk, prompting a trip to the nearby grocery store.
Hofer’s makes all of its food fresh and daily from corned-beef reubens to waffles and french toast.
“We’re not big into buying mass amounts of whatever pre-made,” Hofer said, adding the workers start preparing the food about 2 a.m. “We rock it at night. So when we open at 8 a.m., everything is done and out there.”
Hofer explained he likes to make food memorable, requiring each dish to be special and not found elsewhere.
“We want the ‘wow’ factor in all our food,” he said.
The wow factor of the bakery and cafe started with Hofer’s parents, Horst and Gerda Hofer. They opened the store at 8758 N. Main St. in Helen about 25 years ago.
Horst and Gerda moved to the United States from a small town outside of Nueremberg, Germany, in the 1950s. Horst was a certified baker and pastry chef in Germany, who continued in his trade. Eventually, he and Gerda opened a bakery and deli in Atlanta.
“In 1991, my parents were up here doing the Unicoi Trail and they saw this location was for sale,” Ralph said of the building that used to house the First National Bank of White County.
A few days later, the property was auctioned off, with the Hofers buying it. After toying with a few ideas, they decided to open a Bavaria konditorei cafe. In Germany, Ralph said, konditeorei cafes were places people often ended up after a hike, The cafes served light meals, cake, coffee and ice cream dishes.
But being an “incredible cook,” Gerda started concocting German dishes on weekends at the Atlanta location.
“She started doing some dishes on the weekend and next thing you know we’re in the restaurant business,” Ralph said.
While he had no intention of running the family business, Ralph’s parents asked him to come to Helen for a couple of months to help get things running smoothly in spring 1992. The then-28-year-old never left.
Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe is now the oldest single-owner restaurant in Helen, he said. He also made an addition to his parents’s place, a biergarten. It was built in 2010 on the covered front deck.
It’s open weekends, weather permitting, May through early November and daily during Oktoberfest, which is going on now. Live music, light German and American food is served with a variety of domestic and imported beers.
“We spend a lot of time and effort on really doing good food (and) great food,” Ralph said. “We also have a great staff. They work hard to give the customers a great experience when they’re here.
“I guess we’re doing it right if we’ve been here a long time. Everybody seems to like it.”
Regular customer George Krueger agreed. The American-born descendant of German parents drives 35 miles a few times each week to eat at Hofer’s.
“I wouldn’t ordinarily go to any restaurant that’s that far, but Hofer’s is worth it,” the Blairsville man said.
For breakfast, Krueger orders the waffle topped with fruit, whipped cream or syrup, plus two eggs and sausage. For lunch, he usually gets the Kassler rib, a smoked rib with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut.
In addition to the food, Krueger says the service is also great. He usually requests to sit in his favorite server’s section.
But Hofer’s isn’t just a weekly trip to Krueger. He brings his family — four daughters and their husbands who came from across the country— to Hofer’s on Thanksgiving weekend followed by a stroll through Helen.
He also lucks out with Hofer’s extended hours during Oktoberfest. Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe is primarily only open breakfast and lunch, but is open Saturday evenings for dinner until Oct. 30.