Many bold movers and shakers are young – like Serhat Aktas. The 29-year-old sommelier opened his first wine bistro, Der Weinlobbyist, in June 2020. He had planned to launch in April, at the beginning of the outdoor dining season. Aktas did in fact open his doors after the end of lockdown No. 1, but cautiously – with just one employee, 100 varieties of wine and small homemade dishes. But the launch turned out to be a huge success. Far more than the originally foreseen 300 varieties are now stored in the wine refrigerators in the dining and banquet rooms. ‘Even considering Covid-19, it went very well. Without Covid-19, I’d have said it went well,’ says Aktas, summing up after his first few months.
Der Weinlobbyist: a courtyard as a windfall for the opening
And, without the closure at the beginning of November, things could have continued that way. The location turned out to be a lucky coincidence: a small courtyard surrounded by outbuildings that calls forth a cosy corner of Italy rather than the busy street outside. Even in October, the guests insisted on being seated in ‘their’ courtyard. ‘One evening, we had 8 reservations from guests who wanted to sit outdoors when it was 10 degrees.’ Aktas granted their wish. He brought equipment in: 3 large, square umbrellas that attach together seamlessly and can even have walls added, plus infrared heaters. This arrangement is designed to keep every degree of warmth inside the courtyard for the guests. ‘Everything has multiple uses over the long term, not just during Covid-19.’
Simply selling bottles of wine not to be consumed on the premises, however, isn’t worth it for him. Aktas is confident that his guests will be back as soon as he can open his doors again. The wines, which are mostly German and often mature, will then again take centre stage. As accompaniments to hot soup or a tarte flambée in the well ventilated dining room or the courtyard, they get the guests’ circulation going and generate plenty of inner warmth and good cheer, at least for a while.
Krone Alt-Hoheneck: customer retention with crowdfunding
A vintage Prosecco played an important role in helping Krone Alt-Hoheneck in Ludwigsburg survive the first lockdown, when sales had otherwise dried up. With the ‘Beschützerbrause’, or ‘protectors’ fizz’, a special edition provided by a vintner friend, along with house-baked bread from the wood-fired oven and a large, branded cloth bag, owners Pascal and Markus Fetzer reached more than 550 supporters. Their motto: ‘Buy 2, get 1!’ They indicated the €30 product value clearly while charging twice that amount. They had intended to stop their crowdfunding campaign at 600 ‘protectors’ whom they had recruited with a Krone fairy tale video. ‘People kept on coming,’ says Markus Fetzer, who has been operating the Krone Alt-Hoheneck with his brother-in-law Pascal Fetzer for 6 years. The promotion turned into a popular feature and a successful customer-retention measure.
Food and beverages are now available in the 'Kaufmannsladen'
Guests remain loyal to the Krone, again buying selections from the takeaway range or in the 'Kaufmannsladen' (‘grocery store’). ‘We served our last guests on the final Sunday evening, while it was still allowed, and then converted everything straightaway, set up and started selling on Monday.’ Customers hankering after German specialities like fried beef and onions in gravy with house-made spaetzle or bread dumplings with mushroom cream sauce can order on the website or by phone. They can then pick up their hot, boxed food in the 'Kaufmannsladen'. The shop also offers regional dishes to finish preparing at home as well as German-style ‘tea’ options such as pasta squares, spaetzle, ham sausage and potato salad, and regional cold cuts and cheese. Even the bread from the wood-fired oven, which in ‘normal’ times is only served in the restaurant, is available for purchase on Mondays, when it’s baked fresh. The cloth bags left over from the ‘protector’ promotion have become ‘treat bags’: they contain a specially-created, 3-course meal plus bottles of wine. Added to that are craft beers, house wines and other wines from local brewers and vintners who belong to the owners’ circle of friends.
Under the Covid-19 restrictions, the Fetzers are again keeping the business ‘cooking’, despite their employees being on short-time work schedules. ‘As the bosses, we put ourselves on short-time work, too,’ says Markus Fetzer, who is never truly ‘off’ since he lives on the premises. ‘We give our employees plenty of freedom within the business and we’re flexible. We’re doing everything we can to keep our fantastic, well-functioning team here.’ For a future together – with guests who are waiting for ‘their’ restaurants, supporting ‘their’ restaurateurs with special initiatives and staying loyal.
Part 1: Dare to Do More, Not Less.
Header picture: Serhat Aktas / Der Weinlobbyist.