We sat down with Paula and George to learn more about what it is like to open up a cafe in Berlin and keep it going. Keep reading to learn more:
Paula and George are Portuguese/Greek couple based in Berlin. They are the owners of the BEKAREI, a café/bakery in Dunckertsrasse 23 in Prenzlauer Berg. They opened in 2006 and offer Portuguese/Greek pastries like Pastel de Nata, Tigeladas, Pão de Deus, Tiropitakia and Bougatsa as well as croissants, cakes, bagels, bread and rolls.
LFB: Can you please tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you got started with the food industry?
Bekarei: Paula is Portuguese and my parents are from Greece, but we have both been living in Berlin for over 20 years now. We met in 2001 and have been a couple ever since. We both started with “non-gastronomic“ jobs. Paula used to be a teacher and I worked in the film industry as a director for 3D productions. In 2001, we decided to open a bar and start our second career in the hospitality industry. Then, in 2006, we opened the BEKAREI.
LFB: Can you tell us how Bekarei came to be?
Bekarei: As I mentioned, before we started in 2006, Paula and I had a little bar called „EKA“. The bar was also located at Prenzlauer Berg, but when we had our son we decided to make a professional restart. By that time, we discovered the little store at Dunckertraße 23. It was love at first sight: the retro style of the interior, the old counter and buffet, the original wallpaper from the 70’s and of course, the top situation in the heart of Prenzlauer Berg. The store used to be a bakery, but the owner retired and we decided to rent the place and rebuild the business. That is how everything began.
LFB: Are you the only Portuguese Bakery in Berlin?
Bekarei: No, we are not. Berlin has a lot of bakeries and as there are a lot Portuguese people here, there are other Portuguese bakeries too. But of course, we are the best
LFB: hat sets your restaurant/cafe apart from other establishments here is the overall experience and the presentation of the food and drinks. The interior design is so unique at Bekarei and has such an amazing retro vibe. Can you elaborate on the importance of this to you personally and what inspired the design?
Bekarei: There are two main differences between us and other cafés/bakeries. First of all – and most important – the quality of our products. We bake seven days a week, everything is handmade and we work with selected products only. Flour comes from a mill in Brandenburg for instance, we only use organic eggs and our vanilla is from Mexico – just three examples of how we work and what is important for us. On the other hand, there is the unique interior which makes the BEKAREI so special. The interior design is very retro and reminds of passed times when the wall was still up. This style creates a cosy atmosphere which is different to other cafés. Most of them are very minimal, white walls, Scandinavian furniture – stylish and beautiful of course, but we prefer rough edges, because that is what gives you profile.
LFB: Can you tell us a bit about what it is like to have your own restaurant/cafe
Bekarei: Whether you have a café or another business, being self-employed means that you are always on the run. And it’s not just about yourself and your career, you are also responsible for your team. There are so many decisions to make and so many people who rely on you. But I don’t want to complain, we both love what we do and that is probably the most important thing when you set up a business.
LFB: Why Berlin?
Bekarei: Just because we both love this city and even though we are not native Berliners, we feel at home here. We met here, we fell in love, we had our son here and of course, Berlin is an international metropolis.
LFB: What is the best part about being a small business in Berlin?
Bekarei: It is easier to maintain the personality of your business, because the more your business grows, the risk increases and sometimes you are forced to make decisions you don’t want to.
LFB: What is the hardest part about being a small business in Berlin (and in general)?
Bekarei: See number 6!
LFB: Is there a way for consumers as well as producers big and small to work together?
Bekarei: You need to support each other. We choose our producers very carefully and we are convinced that they offer good quality. So, if one of our customers asks where we get our flour or our milk, we always recommend our producers.
LFB: Should consumers always support local food establishments first?
Bekarei: It depends on your attitude and often also on your financial possibilities, as local products are often more expensive than products from abroad – which is kind of ironic. In my opinion, consumers indeed should support local food establishments and there are so many reasons why. It makes no sense to buy an apple from South Africa which ripens on a container ship, but couldn’t develop the aroma like an apple which grows on a tree somewhere in Germany or, even better, in Brandenburg. The taste of both apples is different and it stands to reason which one is better. Last but not least there also environmental and ethical reasons.
LFB: How many years have you been doing what you do?
Bekarei: We opened our bar 2001. So we have both been working in the gastronomic sector for 16 years now.
LFB: What kind of advice do you have for people who want to start business in the hospitality industry?
Bekarei: You need to be patient – most of the time with yourself. It also helps to have a good business plan
LFB: What advice do you have for people who have already started their own business in the hospitality industry but are struggling?
Bekarei: Same here – you need to be patient and it probably helps when you have a plan B. Success depends on so many factors and some of them are not predictable, sometimes it is just the wrong time and the wrong place!