Shouts of “prosit” and well wishes abounded last week, as Timo and Nicole Winkel were joined by many loyal patrons who came out to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Doener Bistro.
The Harrison Street restaurant opened its doors downtown March 28, 2008, taking up residence in the iconic Mighty Midget Kitchen. Much about the restaurant remains unchanged since its opening—all the cooking is still done in the Midget, a recycled piece of a B29 bomber; the annual Oktoberfest celebration remains a can’t-miss event; and co-owner Nicole Winkel is just as likely today to amp up the crowd by dancing on a bench as she was 10 years ago.
The Doener’s humble beginnings began in a food truck, first in the former Citibank parking lot and later in the Virginia Village shopping center, in addition to being a vendor at many events. The idea for the concept sprang from one of Timo’s trips to the U.S. to visit then-girlfriend Nicole, who was a nanny in Loudoun County. He couldn’t believe there was no place in the area to get a good doener, a Turkish hand food that has become a staple for Germans, particularly the late-night party crowd. The food truck became a fixture in the shopping center and a destination for the lunch crowd. They called it Hamburg Doener, after their native city. They would later change the name to Doener Bistro, in part to avoid the common confusion that they sold hamburgers.
When the opportunity arose to open a brick and mortar space, the duo jumped at it. Along with the doener and other German delicacies, they debuted a German beer menu, which has expanded over the years thanks to the restaurant’s popularity.
Timo Winkel acknowledges that when word spread of their impending arrival to the downtown restaurant scene, and the debut of a beer garden concept, many did not know what to make of what the Germans would bring. Now, they find themselves in the midst of a robust, and growing, craft beer movement with beer garden atmospheres sprouting up countywide.
“We were kind of the first,” Timo Winkel reflected.
The restaurant space also allowed for the birth of the Doener’s annual Oktoberfest celebration, typically held around the third week of October. The four-day event includes live music, special menu features, and a party atmosphere unlike any other. Even the most introverted of guests eventually find themselves doing the chicken dance or YMCA, particularly after a pint (or liter) or two of beer. The event has grown every year, and last year’s celebration—with an expanded party space thanks to a larger tent—was its biggest yet, Nicole Winkel said.
In its decade-long run, while much about the restaurant space remains unchanged, other than some additional indoor capacity, it’s been 10 years of change for Timo and Nicole. The two got married, welcomed their son Benno, now 7 years old, and opened two other Doener locations, in Adams Morgan and Frederick, MD. Last week provided some time for much needed reflection, as many long-time patrons paid them a visit, bringing back a flood of memories.
Hard work and many long hours have been keys to their success, Timo Winkel says.
“We’ve tried to be true in our atmosphere to the European/German way to treat customers,” he said.
That means allowing customers to sit, eat, drink and socialize without the pressure to turn over a table. Many of the restaurant’s long-time and recent customers drive from afar to enjoy the atmosphere and, of course, the food and beverages. It has become a destination for the region’s German expatriates, like the Winkels.
In addition to becoming a destination in its own right, Doener Bistro has been awarded for its sustainable practices twice by the Town of Leesburg, as a recipient of the annual Tolbert Award in 2010 and an honorable mention winner in the town’s annual Business Appreciation Awards. Doener Bistro was also the first Virginia Green certified restaurant in Leesburg. The restaurant has also brought the county seat some international exposure, with the Doener and the town featured on German national television and in some of the country’s largest newspapers, Nicole Winkel points out.
While it’s been a successful run on Harrison Street, the Winkels acknowledge that 2018 may find them looking for a new location for the Doener.
“We are exploring other options and locations for 2019 for our Leesburg restaurant,” Nicole Winkel said. “Our lease expired in late 2017, and we signed a one-year extension until the end of 2018 so far. However, our landlord [Gordon MacDowell] has indicated his plans to take part of our inside dining area in order for him to accommodate his expansion needs. More to come on this throughout the year as it develops.”
Doener Bistro is at 202-A Harrison St. in downtown Leesburg. For more information, go to doener-usa.com.