Opening up your own restaurant undoubtedly comes with challenges, but starting a business abroad adds a significant number of issues to those challenges in the first place. OpenTable has caught up with three British restaurateurs who all have one thing in common: they successfully sell British cuisine in Germany.
For Scottish Mogwai musician Barry Burns and his wife Rachel owning their own bar was a project approached with a lot of intuition – the actual business plan followed later. They opened their bar “Das Gift” in the hip area Neukölln in Berlin in December 2010 after stumbling across the premises while Rachel was looking for an artist’s studio in Berlin. The couple were certain that they wanted to fill a gap they had perceived in the German market and open a business “with a big element of Scottishness in it” as Rachel calls it and their menu makes sure to let that Scottishness shine through: award-winning MacSween haggis and Stornoway Black Pudding or their famous mac and cheese (enjoyed by fellow “Berliner” and former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe on two occasions), alongside whisky, small batch gins and Scottish ales, can be enjoyed in their bar.
Rachel and Barry Burns have successfully managed to establish their British export by bringing something new to a foreign country, while integrating themselves at the same time. “First of all, it is important to learn the language when establishing a new business”, Rachel emphasises.” Research is also key. I was under the impression that goods were easy to get hold of in the common market but I’ve found it difficult to source some things as you rely on what importers stock.” With regards to life and work in Germany, she adds: “We felt it would be wrong to rip out the bar and the décor because the bar already had a character and a history. It felt important to integrate, and we’re trying to do so respectfully by adding to what was there rather than obliterating and replacing, and I think the local community respond to that.”
Fellow Brit John Bywater also chose Berlin to sell another famous British export – “fish & chips”. His restaurant has been awarded by the German fine foods magazine “Der Feinschmecker” and German Michelin-star chef Sascha Stemberg also joined forces with Bywater’s business during the Eat Berlin Food Festival 2017. John Bywater, originally from Southampton, had a ten-year background in gastronomy before deciding to open up his very own business in Germany. Even though it is undoubtedly an advantage to learn and speak the language of the country in which you reside, mainland Europe makes it easy for British entrepreneurs to start a business as fluency in English is very common. This was also a massive help to John Bywater at the beginning of his Berlin odyssey.
He was looking for a niche in the market and his very own love for fish and chips made him and his business partner Thomas Forcher open “Der Fischladen” in Berlin. He emphasises that it is important to adjust to your local market and has done so by adding traditional Berlin curry sauce and sourcing his fish locally from breeders based in the German capital, but at the same time he sets himself apart from possible competitors by traditionally serving his fish and chips in a newspaper and especially importing the batter from Britain. Bywater remarks that there is a growing British expat community who simply craves home-grown comfort food and praises the high working standards he notices abroad.
“In Germany and throughout mainland Europe, there is a very good training system in place for gastronomy. The most difficult part of business is finding good people and keeping them. In London, the workforce is far more international, whereas in Germany, over half of the staff are German as working in gastronomy is still seen as a good career choice.”
John Bywater’s tips for running a successful restaurant business abroad:
1) Believe in the concept you have and live it every day. If you don’t put your heart into it, then people around you will notice that you’re not passionate enough.
2) Listen and be prepared to change and evolve.
3) Adjust to the market you are in. A “chippy” exactly like in Britain would not work as well in the German market.
4) Social media is key: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube.
Nowadays, everyone checks out everything online before they go to a restaurant.”
British cuisine and lifestyle is also the selling point for Munich’s “Victorian House”, which is run by Jonathan Phelps and his German business partners Uwe Lindner and Tobias Karl Graf von Woizik. The trio originally met on board “Queen Elizabeth II” where they held management positions and decided to sell the British dream in Germany. Since their opening in 1991, “Victorian House” has constantly been expanding due to its huge success. Even Stella McCartney decided to launch one of her new fragrances in the establishment and it is easy to see why: Jonathan Phelps and his business partners have managed to fill a niche in the German market and create a business that speaks to German customers.
“Victorian House” really is a home from home and offers British style, taste and elegance. How did the trio manage to insert a little piece of Britain into another country? By being authentic and using traditional British recipes and products. For Phelps and his partners’ business, which now counts six locations in Munich, their business approach of “authenticity is key” has clearly paid off. In 2015 they opened their latest business venture: an online shop housing everything from exquisite British silverware to traditional shortbread. So far, the online business benefits from an annual growth of 90-120%.
Photos courtesy of Das Gift, Der Fischladen, and Victorian House