Breathing new life into an old building, Lora Gookin expands her existing business into Old Town Warrenton
Gateau Bakery Cafe & Tea House began seven years ago, when owner Lora Gookin, transformed her unfinished basement into a commercial kitchen and delighted clients with artistic cake creations. Her specialty is wedding cakes, but over the years, her business has grown, as have the needs of her clients.
The definition of Gateau – a rich or fancy cake (source: Merriam-Webster) – describes Gookin’s offerings perfectly. She offers patrons much more than her specialty wedding cakes: other custom and non custom cakes, a variety of desserts, and much more are all available for the public to enjoy at her new location on Culpeper Street in Old Town Warrenton.
“Fearless – that is what I was when I began my business seven years ago. I knew what I wanted and went for it,” she said. “Since I already had an undergraduate degree, I went back to pastry school for a certification program, which was nine months long. I wanted to understand baking chemistry as well as the design aspect. It was important for me to master the baking.” Gookin revealed when she went back to school it was a phenomenal experience.
After she graduated the program, Gookin learned about a week later that she and husband, Scott, would be relocating to Warrenton due to his work. Once they were settled in their new home, she began searching for locations for her business venture. At the time, there was not much on the market, nor many leases available in her price range. Her basement was unfinished at the time, and that is how Gookin decided to initially utilize the space they had for her newly formed business.
After years of working in her home commercial space, Gookin knew it was time to make some changes. Around 2014, she hired help; prior to that she completed all her own work. One and a half years later, she hired more employees and still kept growing. For her, it became difficult to work and grow her business out of her existing space.
About two years ago, Gookin was out for a walk on the Greenway with a friend and said, “Know what? I’m going to find a building.” And she did. After looking at the space at 12 Culpeper Street, as well as other potential sites, she felt the Culpeper Street offered an ideal location for her business, and it was large enough to accommodate her vision.
“No building plans were on record for the property, so I took some measurements and sketched up some ideas,” explained Gookin. After her initial thoughts were solidified and incorporated into her sketch she reached out to David Norden, a local architect, to finesse her ideas. “He took my rendering and recommended some changes: a big one was to utilize the second floor of the building as the commercial kitchen. I had not thought that would have been a possibility,” Gookin shared. Once the architect made recommendations to create a more functional floorplan, she moved forward with 10 months of renovations to the interior and exterior of the building. The incredible transformation has now been completed.
The building, which offered boxed-in rooms and a dark interior when Gookin purchased it now showcases a space with high ceilings, refinished original floors, large windows, and exposed brick walls. The interior space offers a charming atmosphere with a rustic elegance. Crystal chandeliers were hung which now provides a shimmering light – similar to glitter – during the early morning hours. Reclaimed wood was used to design the custom made dining tables. Teapots and other architectural elements were carefully selected to decorate the space in a friendly, eclectic manner – blending the character of the old building with modern elements.
“I wanted to keep it bright and welcoming in here,” shared Gookin. “I also wanted to preserve the charm of the building. The exposed brick, the nook with bench seating, and the old vault (still in the original location) were left in place to create that blend of old and new.” The attention to details is visually evident in the building itself, as well as her product offerings.
Gookin explained she is dedicated to baking only the best food possible. “This is not just a restaurant. This is about incorporating the best possible ingredients and combining it with skilled craftsmanship to offer our customers amazing products. Everything we make is from scratch,” she explained. “We use no dyes, no shortening, and aluminum free leaveners. I look at every particular ingredient for every item we make. Everything is scrutinized in order to offer the best tasting food we may offer.”
Ingredients are very important to Gookin. “Sometimes you don’t need many ingredients for things to taste good,” she explained. “You just need the right, wholesome ingredients.” For Gookin the focus is on organic; no artificial sweeteners are used in her food. She even offers gluten free and vegan items for her customers.
Gateau’s services include a walk-in bakery counter, soups, sandwiches, crêpes, and tea services: dessert tea, high tea and in the near future a royal tea (to include champagne). Gookin offers a wide selection of teas by the cup, or to purchase to take home or to the office. Coffee enthusiasts, do not despair, they offer that too.
“I envision this building to be a local place to gather and for my existing business to expand. I want to be a place for local residents to enjoy, as well as be a destination for those from DC or other locations,” noted Gookin. “Essentially, I am here for anyone who wants a dessert – whether it be a single slice of cake, a cupcake or a custom cake for a wedding, birthday, wedding shower, or any other special event.”
The next time you crave some treats, stop in and visit Lora Gookin at Gateau. You will be greeted with delectable options as well as friendly service; more than likely you will be able to visit with others you know while you are there.
Photos by Kara Thorpe
January 27, 2018 Official Grand Opening Celebration
- Custom, non-custom, and bakery cakes
- Breakfast sandwiches
- Gluten free and vegan options
Hours of Operation Beginning January 27, 2018
NOTE: Gateau is open now but hours of operation will vary until the grand opening celebration. Follow them on social media or visit the website (1gateau.com) for more information.
Monday through Saturday
9 am until 4 pm
12 Culpeper Street