Fans of Dinkel’s Bakery only have until the end of April to visit the 101-year-old attraction. Bakery owners have put up a sign stating that the North Side attraction will close on Saturday, April 30th. The day Michelin published its vaunted star ratings, many Chicagoans remembered the expected closure of the bakery.
Fourth-generation owner Luke Carl says he didn’t want to close, but it’s just time to turn a new page. After the bakery closes, he will put kitchen equipment up for auction. He is not sure if he will stay in Chicago – his children no longer live in the area.
“You can do a lot of testing, but not a lot of money,” says Carl, who posted a closing sign Tuesday morning. He says he didn’t expect to see four cameramen crowd into his bakery this afternoon along with a pack of sad customers. Carl says Dinkel’s specializes in selling nostalgia and escapism to help customers forget about busy workdays and negative news headlines with cupcakes or sugar cookies. Generations have ordered Dinkel’s holiday cakes and other desserts for special occasions. At one time, Carl says he was thinking of opening other places, but the original bakery on the Lakeview and Village Roscoe border remained successful, and although it is closing, Carl says the formula could continue to succeed.
“Well, there are a lot of sad people in Chicago today,” he says. “One hundred and one years is a good run.”
Dinkel’s was founded in 1922 by Josef K. Dinkel, an immigrant from Bavaria who came from a long family of master bakers. In the early years, Joseph was engaged in baking, and his wife Anthony was engaged in sales. In 1932, Dinkel’s moved to its current location on Lincoln Avenue, and the couple’s son, Norman, also began working in a bakery. In the 1970s, Norman’s son, Norman Jr., took office; he still owns the place, but it is run by his son-in-law, Carl, who grew up in his family’s Kansas City bakery. Carl attributes the success of his grandmother’s bakery to her current location and says she was far-sighted, making the space wheelchair accessible years before the ADA federal mandate.
The bakery was also one of the first in the city to experiment with cholesterol-free pastries with bran cupcakes due to a shortage of eggs during World War II. In 1960, Norman Sr. sold a secret bakery recipe for a cream cheesecake to Beatrice Foods, which led to a lawsuit ten years later when Norman Sr. felt the corporation was not selling the cake properly.
In the 1980s, Dinkel’s started a thriving postal order business with its galleries and strudels, and in 2013 it expanded its coffee shop and for the first time in its history began selling bread and sandwiches. He also started selling confectionery in bulk to local supermarkets. But the pandemic was severe for the bakery: it led to a loss of traffic, and a winter storm put dampers on Paczki Day, traditionally one of the biggest sales days of the year. This winter has also been tough, Carl Eater said in March; the bakery suffered from a shortage of staff and supply chains, and pre-orders for paczki were made slowly. The reason for the closure, says Carl, is the mail business. Normally the bakery would have to increase production in June and July to maintain operations until the end of the year. This provides the natural code for Dinkel’s epic run.
Last year, Norman Jr. put the bakery building up for sale. He said Sun-Times at a time when the location of the store on a busy street without parking was not as favorable for business as 30 years ago, when the neighborhood had more pedestrian culture, and that he hoped to continue working in a smaller space with driveway or turning the bakery into a fully operational mail. “I think the bakery sells more than bakery products,” he said. “We are selling stability in a very volatile world.”
Dinkel’s will be part of reputable bakeries in the Chicago area that have closed in recent years. The nearly century-old Gladstone bakery in Village Elk Grove closed in February, and the Swedish bakery closed in 2017 after 88 years in Andersonville. Bridgeport Bakery closed in 2019, but was reopened by a neighbor the following year. Carl complimented his colleagues, saying it was great to have a community where you could fend off ideas: “Chicago has a lot of great bakeries, and it’s fun to talk to the store.”
Carl says he’s not sure what to do with the family recipes. For example, their chocolate chip cookies are made from 600 pounds of dough. It’s too hard for a home baker to reduce this: “As long as we stick to these recipes,” he says.
The pandemic was the last problem for Dinkel. Changes in the American way of life, including a faster pace that made fast food more appealing, and an obsession with healthy food and diets, also created obstacles.
“We survived without fat, without sugar, without carbohydrates,” says Carl. “You know, I don’t think we enjoy eating in this county the way we should.”
Dinkel’s Bakery, 3328 N. Lincoln Avenue, closing Saturday, April 30th.