Günter Hans brings a taste of Europe to Columbia

Günter Hans, a European bakery in Columbia, represents a successful product of young entrepreneurs. CEO Lydia Melton attended Northwest Missouri State University along with her husband, majoring in market and business management.  When Melton decided to study abroad in Europe during her senior year, she had no idea that decision would change her life.

“I’ve always liked to travel,” Melton said. “I enjoy seeing new people, seeing new things.”

Studying abroad provided an opportunity for growth that would not have been accessible within the U.S. When Melton arrived at her first European airport she found the cuisine to be exceptional.  This was a major contrast to U.S. airport food. The culture shock caused Melton to consider the possibilities of how quality food could change any setting.

“The airport food was more of a defining moment for the potential for what food could be,” Melton said. “If the airport food is satisfactory, what’s the real food like? I was definitely very happy.”

The “real” food proved to be the highlight of Melton’s trip, igniting a desire to investigate the potential for a specialty food business in Columbia. Melton lived in Hasselt, Belgium, for a brief period but traveled throughout Europe. The small town, abby atmosphere of European bakeries inspired Melton. The majority of bakeries and restaurants were family owned with recipes passed down from generations.

Erik S. Salvatierra, a member of the Günter Hans management team doing marketing, human resources and special events, lived in southern Germany for six months.  He noticed a vast difference between European and U.S. restaurants.

“There are a lot of family owned ones, there aren’t really any big chain restaurants,” Salvatierra said.

The European bakeries Salvatierra visited had a cozy atmosphere where people could come together and spend quality time visiting and enjoying themselves. Europeans took their time eating and appreciating the food taste. The bakeries provided a sense of community and relaxation time.

“Everything was a lot slower paced in Europe,” Melton said. “There were no deadlines. You would pretty much do things when you got around to doing it.”

Upon returning to the U.S., Melton searched for similar food quality and atmosphere. During Melton’s research she realized that she could create her own European bakery in the U.S.

Melton initially presented her idea on Kickstarter.com, a website that allows entrepreneurs to pitch ideas. Interested site visitors could donate money to begin the business. After only one month Melton reached her goal of $20,000 because Columbia locals quickly learned about her idea and contributed. In three years of hard work, Günter Hans has become a dot on the Columbia map by providing quality service and European food to residents.

“I thought I would just be in the food business, but you’re not,” Melton said. “You’re in the fixing-the-Gelato-machine business, you’re in the know-how-to-operate-and-completely-defrost-and-fix-the-walk-in-cooler business, you’re in make-the-floor-even-during-construction, you’re in electric. I didn’t know you needed a background in so many different things.”

Each day presents a unique challenge to the work atmosphere and staff. Business has grown through word of mouth and Günter Hans -Artisan Café Facebook page advertisements. Menu highlights include liege waffles, homemade German bretzels and fresh sangria. Günter Hans is one of the few places to import liege waffles from Belgium, as they are a rarity in the U.S.

The homemade German bretzels, which are half pretzel half bread, serve as a hearty lunch. Günter Hans is expanding to appeal to a bar crowd with a variety of European wine and beer.

“Lydia wanted a more young professional crowd in here,” Salvatierra said.” I think it would be a transitioning bar.”

Another upcoming project Melton and her management team are working on is hosting a Columbia Oktoberfest. Melton plans to amplify the décor and have people dress in lederhosen. As Günter Hans continues to expand its selection of European food, Columbians have many great meals to look forward to.

Young entrepreneur Melton accomplished what many graduates dream of achieving. She traveled somewhere new, experienced a culture shock and discovered her profession along the way. Melton’s vision of owning a European Bakery in the U.S. came true. Günter Hans will provide the public with a place to unwind, enjoy their community and share an appreciation for delicious European cuisine.

Marie Fulcher

About the Author Marie Fulcher

Marie Fulcher has called Columbia, Mo., her home for as long as she can remember. “People are always saying Columbia is so small and they want to get away, but I like it enough. It is small enough to know a lot of people,but big enough to discover new places every day,” Fulcher said. Attending MU, that was an easy choice. Her father is a professor at CAFNR, which helped to instil her tiger pride early.