Anne Furth has finally found time to write the daily specials on the board. Split pea and sausage soup €5.50. Oven-baked ribs with fava beans and boiled potatoes €9.40. She is just about to add the next item, sliced chicken in cream sauce, when her mobile rings, interrupting her once again. Well, at least she got that far. Since she arrived at Nordbahnhof restaurant in Krefeld at just before 8 a.m., her phone has been beeping virtually every minute. ‘Hello, this is Anne. Oh, dear – lower back pain?’ Anne hurries next door to have a quiet word with her co-worker, still clutching the piece of chalk in her hand as she brushes past her brother, Johannes. He is pacing up and down in front of the bar and also talking on the phone. Actually, he is juggling 2 mobiles at the same time. With one wedged between his ear and shoulder, Johannes Furth is scrolling on the display of the other smartphone. ‘For 100 people, I can offer you the brewery. That would also allow you to be outside.’ At the other end of the line, the caller is evidently wavering. ‘Well, by June it can already climb above 30 degrees. Then no one will want to sit inside,’ Furth says in a conciliatory tone. ‘Trust me. We speak from experience.’
Fresh kick for an old railway station
They do indeed have quite a bit of experience at Nordbahnhof in Krefeld: with the restaurant trade, events, catering and, more recently, with brewing beer. But more on that later. Johannes Furth was born in 1987, followed by his sister Anne in 1989. Just about everyone in Krefeld is familiar with ‘their’ Nordbahnhof, which means ‘northern railway station’. The restaurant, which serves hearty German fare, is a family-run business with a rich history. The family has been managing the place since 1991, but for many years before that, the parents, Viktor and Stefanie, had a restaurant of their own in the heart of Krefeld. More than 30 years ago, their attention was caught by a newspaper ad searching for a new tenant for the listed building that dates back to 1870. ‘The photo in the newspaper showed the Nordbahnhof around 1900,’ Anne Furth recalls. ‘That’s when my father came up with the idea of designing a restaurant in the style of a railway carriage.’
The plan worked like a charm. For one and a half years, Viktor renovated the vacant old station building together with his brother Ulli. A railway theme features prominently throughout the place: The dining area is liberally decorated with dark wood and the benches are reminiscent of old passenger carriages, as is the vaulted ceiling. And a model electric train makes its rounds along the walls above the heads of the guests.
The dining room of Nordbahnhof alone offers seating for 220, including an adjoining conservatory known as the ‘Orangerie’. Other spaces – like the locomotive shed and the brewery – can be booked as event venues. And the former platform serves as a beer garden in summer, with outdoor seating for up to 300 additional guests. But no one has to worry about heavy rail traffic. Trains only pass through here sporadically. Every now and then, a freight locomotive rumbles by. And there’s the ‘Schluff’, Krefeld’s historic steam railway, a popular attraction at weekends and on public holidays.
An authentic product
The Schluff, a sobriquet that suggests a slow and leisurely pace, also inspired the name of the beer that has been produced in the restaurant’s own brewery since 2018: Schlüffken . The name of this craft brew is a play on words based on the diminutive ending ‘-ken’ in the local vernacular and the name of the heritage railway. ‘We had no intention of establishing a large brewery,’ explains Anne, ‘and the Schluff is a delightfully laid-back means of transport. So it fits.’ Schlüffken is Anne and Johannes Furth’s very own project. ‘It was important to us as the younger generation to create our own baby and not simply take over our parents’ business,’ says Anne Furth. Likewise, after completing their education, it was important for her and her brother to first work elsewhere and gain some professional experience: she as a food technician at a large food retailer, he as a business economist at a corporation. They both also attended culinary schools: she in Paris, he in Florence. After all, it’s important to them not to be merely managers, but also to have mastered the art of cooking themselves. And so Anne Furth taps draught beer and serves food along with the rest of her team, and Johannes lends a hand in the kitchen at lunchtime. Their approach is also reflected in their decision to found a brewery: ‘Beer is an authentic product,’ says Johannes Furth. And it’s the ideal accompaniment to the home-style cooking served in the restaurant.
It took several years of preparation before the Furths launched Schlüffken in late 2018. They aimed to brew a beer with a distinctive character of its own, ‘not a copy of anything,’ explains Johannes Furth. ‘But not too unusual either,’ as his sister Anne points out. Working together with a specially recruited master brewer , they tweaked the recipe until they achieved the perfect flavour. ‘It’s very different from cooking,’ says Anne Furth, adding: ‘You brew your beer, but can’t taste it until 6 weeks later.’ So it takes patience – and equipment: the newly built brewery houses 11 storage tanks, 4 fermentation tanks and 3 pressure tanks, and the premises are specially designed to function as an event venue as well. The siblings deliberately decided against using old-fashioned-looking copper kettles and opted instead for a modern design. ‘But one that is so timeless that it will still be stylish 30 years from now,’ says Anne Furth.
It was important to us as the younger generation to create our own baby and not simply take over our parents’ business.Anne Furth, Nordbahnhof Krefeld
Covid as an opportunity
They now produce roughly 3,000 hectolitres of Schlüffken every year consisting of 6 different varieties, from the classic pilsner to seasonal specialties like an especially light ale for the summer and a festive beer for the winter. Although they originally set out to serve draught beer, the siblings quickly switched to selling it in bottles. They had little choice in the matter. After only one season on the market, the pandemic erupted, making it impossible to sell the beer at events. Even if it meant an unforeseen investment in their business plan, ‘in a sense, Covid was an opportunity for us,’ says Anne Furth. During the lockdowns, they had to think outside the box and be creative , also when it came to the ongoing employment of their staff.
Instead of putting the workforce on short-time work, the Furths set up a Covid-19 test centre in the car park. During carnival, they sold take-home sweets, and at Christmas, they sold holiday gift boxes. No full-time employee had to be dismissed. The Furths set great store by a personable approach to management. This includes highly regular working hours and reliable planning in advance, neither of which is a given in the restaurant industry. Furthermore, to give people time off at weekends, they deliberately chose Saturday as the closing day for the restaurant.
‘We spend so much time here – I see my staff more often than I see my friends,’ says Anne Furth. She feels that work should be a positive experience: ‘We all want to enjoy working here.’ For instance, they prepare the schedules for the 60 or so staff members at least 6 weeks in advance, and they take into account special circumstances, says Johannes Furth: ‘For example, we have a cook who can only see his child every other weekend and then always needs time off. Of course, we make sure that this is possible.’ Maybe this explains why several ‘restaurant nomads’ have become long-standing employees at Nordbahnhof. The family only recently saw the retirement of 2 staff members who had been with them since day one.
Tradition meets digitalisation
The parents, Viktor and Steffi, are still actively involved. When the restaurant is buzzing with activity at lunchtime, the father, just like his daughter, serves the dishes, assigns seats and chats with the guests. Anne and Johannes Furth say with a grin that their parents passed on the roles to both of them crosswise, so to speak. While ‘patching things up’ for staff and guests is Anne’s specialty, Johannes has devoted himself to the technical side of running the business.
‘Our parents are very active, but leave a lot of decisions to us,’ says Anne Furth. This includes, for example, modernising the establishment in a digital sense. The next step is to monitor the beverage dispensing equipment, meaning that only drinks that have been rung up on the register can be served. Another possibility is to automatically cross-check stock levels with the required orders. ‘The chef should no longer have to do all the calculations by hand, but rather have the information delivered digitally by linking the cash register and the inventory system,’ says Johannes Furth.
Indeed, for all their affinity for tradition and the culinary arts, the siblings agree that, in some respects, you simply have to go with the times – and digitalisation is one example of this. That’s why they order most of their goods digitally, usually with just a few clicks on the METRO Companion app. Several times a week, Nordbahnhof receives food and other products from METRO’s delivery service, also known as Food Service Distribution (FSD) : fresh ingredients, like mushrooms for the Jägerschnitzel, Nuremberg grilled sausages, which are served with sauerkraut and home-made mashed potatoes, and pickled gherkins in oversized tins. The Furths have 95% of their METRO products delivered, allowing them to order as late as 6 p.m. the evening before delivery. But if a spontaneous catering order comes in for the same day or an ingredient is needed at very short notice, the METRO wholesale store in Krefeld is fortunately only a 10-minute drive away.
And if special solutions are required or questions arise, sales force manager Sven Dörkes is on hand to help. The METRO field representative visits Nordbahnhof regularly to discuss customer requirements and prices. His colleague in the office also provides support for last-minute order changes or other special requests from customers. Hence, apart from the digital contact points, the METRO sales force represents the most important point of contact with the restaurateurs.
Many channels, one goal: that’s multichannel
Whether METRO customers choose to do their shopping online, in the store or by delivery, there is more than one approach to receiving products. The network of markets and delivery service (Food Service Distribution) allows for reliable and flexible shopping options, for everything from plannable pre-orders to spontaneous purchases. Goods and services can be ordered digitally via the METRO Companion app or the METRO online shop. Personalised advice is also provided by the sales force in the field and in the back office. To give customers even more effective support, a further expansion of the sales teams is planned as part of the sCore strategy. In addition, by 2030 an anticipated 40% of sales will be digital and delivery sales are expected to triple. After all, our key ambition remains, as always, to make purchasing easy and efficient for professional customers.
‘We trust our employees’
After all, the Furths already has enough on their plate managing the day-to-day business. When every seat in the restaurant is occupied and when guests have questions about what’s on the menu, events need to be planned and staff schedules have to be updated, it only stands to reason that purchasing goods should be as swift and efficient as possible. For all the hustle and bustle of the restaurant business, Anne and Johannes Furth have a big advantage thanks to their family history, as the siblings admit: ‘We benefit from the experience of our parents, of course.’ It gives them an invaluable edge that their mum and dad are so familiar with the routine of running a restaurant and thus remain calm and composed in many situations. This helped them, for instance, to gradually overcome their initial feelings of anxiety over Covid-19 and gain a sense of confidence that things would somehow work out.
Even during peak hours at the restaurant, Anne and Johannes Furth and their team at Nordbahnhof appear to work together like clockwork. Indeed, although the phone rings again for the umpteenth time, eventually they manage to display the daily menu – in classic style – on a historic ticket booth in the entrance area. The restaurateurs’ confident attitude shows in other ways, too. Anne and Johannes Furth may start work early in the morning, but they don’t necessarily have a hand in closing down the restaurant every evening: ‘We have complete trust in our staff.’
Digital tools at METRO
Digital tools help restaurateurs manage their businesses and effectively utilise resources. The DISH (Digital Innovations and Solutions for Hospitality) services developed by METRO subsidiary Hospitality Digital provide diverse digital solutions, from improved visibility on the web and profitable online orders thanks to 0% commission rates to more efficient management of operations. The online reservation tool alone generates a reservation on average every 20 seconds. As a result, roughly 20 million guests have already been accommodated in a total of 16 countries.