Vuglec Breg: Hoping for a return to the ‘old normal’
Vuglec Breg, Mario Vuglec’s family’s business in Krapina, Croatia, was allowed to open again at the beginning of March. Flats, rooms and vineyard cottages for overnight stays, the restaurant and leisure activities such as horseback riding, cycling and wellness attract recreation-seekers to Hrvatsko Zagorje. ‘We were pleasantly surprised by the attendance of our guests,’ says Mario Vuglec. ‘It was clear that everyone missed nature and spending time outside the house, because on weekends we were full.’
For the restaurant that is part of the family business located 40 kilometres north of Zagreb in the Croatian highlands, delivery service in the lockdown was not an option. It’s too far away from the city; the quality would have suffered. However, especially in winter, Vuglec Breg’s gift boxes with its own wines and local products were hugely popular. The diversity of offers proved its worth: ‘We have both accommodation units and a restaurant, so we were not as limited with our business as caterers. That's great luck!‘
Mario Vuglec made the property fit for the future with renovations and new attractions: ‘Our pool will be finished soon, which we are rebuilding for our guests.’ Now all that is missing are the business clients who previously booked team-building events and seminars as complete packages. Vuglec hopes to be able to accommodate larger groups again soon. At the same time, he is on the lookout for qualified staff: ‘We are always looking for new and well-trained people, so we hope for new employees in our team. Our reservations are increasing every day and we hope it will stay that way.’ His wish for the future? To return to the ‘old normal’: ‘We believe that everything will be as it used to be, and the phrase “the new normal” will disappear. We are positive people, we always think positive and continue to do so.’
Papaya Berlin: Thai curry pastes and cautious optimism
The Papaya restaurants are also starting the summer with cautious optimism. ‘Fortunately, we were not closed for a single day. We were able to stay present and be there for our guests despite the lockdown,’ says Michael Näckel. He and his wife, Phornphilai Näcker, have owned 3 Thai restaurants in Berlin for 21 years. They managed to keep all 47 employees on; work was done in shifts. ‘We were able to offer all the dishes from the menu,’ Näckel says. That was important, especially for the regulars. The work also had a training aspect: ‘It's important in our business to retain the basic tension to do a good job.’ The terrace business, however, was ‘rather questionable’ from a purely economic point of view. The Papaya restaurant in Friedrichshain, for example, is only allowed to put 4 tables and benches on the narrow pavement instead of 9.
Papaya focused on distinctive products from the restaurant for home cooking, in addition to selling dishes for takeaway. ‘We bottled and branded our homemade pastes that are needed for Thai dishes.’ This was well received and is to become permanent. An obvious customer group was targeted more specifically: ‘We offered special fish dishes to our Thai guests,’ Näckel says. Pla Thu, for example, or short mackerel, is a kind of national dish in Thailand – but almost unknown in Germany. The coronavirus-related restrictions created space for new ideas: ‘The pressure released some extra creativity. We just took the leap, tried things out and kept on developing everything.’ Näckel noted a lack of imaginative offers elsewhere, especially in places with German cuisine: ‘For example, you can make small schnitzels, fry them darker and package them as German tapas to eat as finger food.’ That’s the DEHOGA district chairman for Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg in Näckel talking; he always has an eye on the industry and the surrounding area.
Restaurateurs looking for new ideas just might strike gold at the gastronomy initiative #gemeinsamdurchhalten. It offers extensive knowledge and products for out-of-home sales. The German Hotel and Restaurant Association DEHOGA is also on board in Germany as a partner and advisor. Michael Näckel’s gaze is directed towards the near future as well as the medium term for good reason. ‘We hope to get off to a better start now. But we also have the next autumn and winter ahead of us. Operations and teams should stay healthy, whatever happens. No one should risk closures due to illness and loss of confidence among guests,’ he said.
Papaya, like Vuglec Breg, is an example of how new business fields can be developed with special products, packages and attractions and how innovations can arouse guests’ interest. METRO also initiates and supports restart initiatives and collaborations in several European countries. Restaurateurs can find suggestions and information for ramping back up as well as for optimising their business model online at www.metro-wholesale.de/empowering-hospitality-for-a-strong-restart – to strengthen the HoReCa industry for a successful restart.
Pricke Dangast: A real new start
Meanwhile, in the North Sea resort of Dangast, the word is out: finally, a beach bar again! French fries and curry sausage, ice cream and cold drinks – the beach restaurant in the building dating back to 1961 is to be relaunched as Pricke Dangast in July 2021 at the latest. Jan Meiners and Neele Bohnert-Meiners became tenants on 1 January 2021. They had already applied to take over the lease in summer 2019. The elaborate conversion, mainly targeting storm surge protection and expanding the floor space by 25%, thus fell in the middle of the pandemic. The Pricke, named after guard rails made of birch trees on the shipping channels, has been up and running since Easter. The newly equipped construction trailer dubbed ‘Roland’ is already on the beach as a vanguard. ‘We use the wagon for orientation for new team members,’ says owner Jan Meiners. ‘We only offer simple, homemade dishes that people like to eat on the beach. We have to have them down perfectly. There are restaurants in town; we don’t want to compete with them.’
There will be room for up to 360 guests on the terrace and in the beach club. Plus those who take their soft ice cream, fries, beer and sodas to the beach. Operation will be self-service. Corona-related special features were integrated into the construction. ‘We planned for one-way streets from the get-go,’ says Meiners. ‘It all came together organically.’ Separate cashier and serving areas and a deposit return station were part of the plan anyway. ‘We don't have an indoor dining room in the Pricke, either. There are only work areas inside,’ says Meiners. The large terrace, on the other hand, is glazed all around, and can be locked and covered with a movable roof. An oversized workshop stove will provide warmth and extend the season ‘from E to O – from Easter to October.’
Even the Norddeutscher Rundfunk radio and TV station has been on site several times. This is no coincidence: the Pricke was designed as a location for events and live broadcasts. Meiners himself is a musician and works for Radio Bremen. He also uses his contacts for the Pricke’s communications: ‘I have approached all my colleagues.’ Owner and managing director Neele Bohnert-Meiners also has excellent professional connections. The wholesale and foreign trade merchant did her training at METRO way back when. After a selection phase with several suppliers, Bohnert-Meiners and her husband decided on METRO Oldenburg as their catering supplier. Jan Meiners says: ‘We knew that METRO offered exactly what we needed: delivery several times a week, good products and the right price-performance ratio.’