Master Chef, Gunter Backhaus

Master Chef, Gunter Backhaus

A short stroll from Lancaster's Penn Square will lead you to one of the Red Rose City's most elegant dining establishments, The Loft Restaurant. 


Standing at the entrance to the restaurant you are immediately inundated by the aroma of escargots, filet mignons, and roasted ducklings being served. These delicious smells are enough to make your mouth water and your stomach begin to growl.

Located at 201 West Orange Street in downtown Lancaster, The Loft is renowned for its unique atmosphere and even more so, for its outstanding cuisine. The building in which The Loft is located, has been a dining establishment since the late 1800's. The eatery preceding The Loft was called Buckius Café. The original restaurant owner gave the name, The Loft, to the establishment in October of 1973.

Why the restaurant is called The Loft is obvious when you enter the second of two dining rooms. Looking upwards you will see a rustic, open beam design that is adorned with potted plants and various antiques. Lining the walls are various knick-knacks and framed paintings from all over the world.

In 1987, European Master Chef, Gunter Backhaus bought the restaurant. At the time Backhaus was quoted as saying that it was his goal to make The Loft one of the finest restaurants in Lancaster. According to patrons that have been eating at the restaurant for years, he has accomplished this goal.

Although owning his own restaurant was a new experience for Backhaus, cooking was not. Backhaus began his culinary career as an apprentice in Dusseldorf, Germany. Gaining the culinary skills he needed, Backhaus left his native Germany at the age of 18 to pursue bigger and better culinary opportunities. He traveled the world, working in hotels and restaurants in places such as Mexico, Bermuda, France, the Bahamas, Spain and England. The next stop on Backhaus' journey was the United States.

Backhaus arrived in New York in the 1970s. A trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania presented him with a great opportunity; the Brunswick Hotel offered him the position as head chef. It was an opportunity that Backhaus could not pass up. He later moved around the country to places such as Detroit, St. Louis, and Florida, where he held head chef positions, but his ties to Lancaster held true and he returned in the late 1970's. From then until the early 1980s, Backhaus held the position of head chef at the Lancaster Host Resort. It seemed that Lancaster would be his final working place.

When he was working at the Lancaster Host Resort, Backhaus received a call from the Grove Park Inn, a posh hotel in Asheville, North Carolina. The inn was looking for an executive chef. Once again, it was an opportunity that he couldn't pass up. In 1986, Backhaus, moved to North Carolina where he would manage a 60-cook, six-kitchen operation for the next year. While in North Carolina, Backhaus learned of a restaurant that was for sale in Lancaster. Owning his own restaurant was something of which Backhaus had always dreamed. In the next few months his dream came true.

"You have to make a choice whether you want to work for yourself or work for somebody else," he said. "Everyone has the dream to own their own place. This chance came and I couldn't pass it up. Backhaus looked forward to taking on the challenge of managing a four-man kitchen as opposed to the 60-cook operation he managed in North Carolina. "I knew it would be tough but I'm always willing to take on a new challenge," he said.

Another challenge that Backhaus faced was reinventing the menu for the restaurant. Backhaus felt that he needed to incorporate some of his European culinary skills with the culinary skills that he acquired in the United States. The end result is a menu that appeals to almost anyone's taste buds.

The Loft's menu features many tasty items ranging from seafood, veal, lamb, duck, and beef to more unusual things such as frog legs and escargots (snails). In addition, the menu also boasts a fresh catch of the day and a chef's special, both of which the chef decides on before business starts. Vegetarians can also be satisfied at The Loft, with an array of fresh vegetables that are purchased at local farm stands.  The generous menu features a signature appetizer, The Loft's famous jumbo cocktail shrimp.  In a recent article in the Lancaster Sunday News, the cocktail shrimp were featured.  "People judge us by our cocktail shrimp," Backhaus said.

In addition to mouth-watering appetizers and outstanding entrees, Backhaus also makes homemade desserts. Seasonally flavored Cheesecakes, Peanut Butter Mousse Pie and Chocolate Kahlua Creme Brulee are some of the favorites at The Loft.

The Loft is open for business Monday through Friday for lunch from 11:30-2:00 and Monday through Saturday for dinner from 5:30-9:00. A welcome addition to the restaurant has been his daughter, Kirsten, who acts as the lunch time manager, with the hopes of someday succeeding her father.

The Loft prides itself, not only for its food, but also for its excellent service. All of these characteristics and more, definitely make The Loft one of the best treasures in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.