Werner and Ursula “Ushi” Beck want their downtown bistro to be the kind of place where the stresses of the work day just melt away.
“We want this to be a place where everyone can feel like they’ve come home,” said Ursula. “It’s just a place where you can come in, relax and escape from your troubles for a while before you have to go back to work.”
It may be the irresistible homemade pastries and signature sandwiches, the delicious vitamin-enriched smoothies or the gourmet coffee drinks that keep loyal customers coming back. It may have something to do with those inviting comfy chairs and the free Wi-Fi, too. More than likely, it’s the combination coupled with the customer service that has made the coffee shop a downtown Bradenton favorite.
Brandy Thornton, the manager at Beck’s Bistro, can attest to the familial nature.
“I love it here. The people are great and so is the atmosphere,” she said. “They make me feel like I’m part of their family.”
The Beck's, who have been married just eight years, worked to make Beck's a home after a long and interesting journey to get where they are today.
Werner and Ursula Beck grew up i Germany, just 30 miles apart, but their paths never crossed because they were separated by the Berlin Wall – Werner on the western side, and Ursula on the eastern side.
“It was only 30 miles, but it may as well have been 3,000 miles,” Werner said. “We lived in two different worlds.”
In 1986, the German defense company where Werner worked, relocated him to Lynchburg, Va. It ws the same year Ursula, a nurse, moved to Sweden, where she lived for the next 18 years.
The couple met on the internet, and after a series of lengthy emails and international phone calls, both traveled to Germany to meet in person for the first time.
Ursula came to the United States to be with her husband and the couple went through the process of becoming U.S. citizens – a process which was delayed for Werner after 9/11.
“I was scheduled to be sworn in just two weeks after 9/11,” Werner said. “But when the terrorist attacks occurred, it was put off until February. Now I’m coming up on my ten year anniversary as a legal United States citizen.”
Building a restaurant
The Becks found their way to Bradenton, where Werner had long dreamed of retiring. Instead of retiring, however, the couple chose to fulfill another dream: They decided to open a restaurant.
“The restaurant was his dream in the beginning,” Ursula confessed, “but after awhile it became my dream as well. None of us had any experience in the industry whatsoever, but we went for it anyway.”
The Becks purchased Cooll Beans, a coffee shop on Manatee Ave., in 2006. They quickly found that it could not sustain itself as a coffee shop alone so decided to change the name to Beck’s Café and expand the menu to include both authentic German and American food. It quickly became a success.
“We combine American and German favorites that appeal to everyone,” Ursula explained. “We didn’t want to be an exclusively German restaurant, but I like to serve some of my favorite foods from home. We’ve had people who are from Germany come here and say that it tastes just like home.”
In 2010, the Becks opened a second restaurant, Beck’s Bistro, at 417 12th St. in the heart of downtown Bradenton. The bistro mostly specializes in beverages and café fare such as soups, sandwiches, salads and pastries, but also features heartier meals like lasagna and pasta crab casserole.
Werner still works as a consultant for the defense company that brought him to the United States 25 years ago, but he is also frequently behind the counter at Beck’s Bistro, where his wife does a great deal of the baking and cooking.
Most of the fare at Beck's is designed to be healthy. You won’t find a fryer in the kitchen. Everything is pan-seared, and the Becks are committed to only using the freshest ingredients and making everything from scratch from the homemade quiche to the braided pastries.
“We are trying very hard to give people a good feeling that when they come to our restaurants, they know that they are eating healthy,” Ursula said.
She added that in upcoming months, the bistro will be extending its menu to include new vegetarian sandwich options as well as paninis.
In speaking with the Becks, one thing is very clear: They have found their niche – with each other, with their business, and in Bradenton, a “charming, sleepy town with so much potential.”
“I think that the reason we’ve done so well is because we have such wonderful customers who have supported us through the years,” said Ursula. “Our customer base is very close and very connected. It really does feel like family.”