“I’m actually more of a host than a restaurateur,” explained the self-proclaimed mayor of Düsseldorf. But it’s not possible to simply leave it there. The Turkish-born gourmet beef buddy Selim Varol started his bold restaurant vocation as a career changer in the summer of 2013, when he opened his first artisan burger eatery What’s Beef in Düsseldorf. His claim was the highest burger quality, sustainability and design. A concept that was unique in Germany at the time and really took off.
Good burger, everything’s good
The next logical step after opening a successful burger eatery? Right, you expand. And what could go wrong if you opened a new one with the same concept in the same city at a different location? The passionate host went to work full of enthusiasm.
“At the time, we had just moved our second Düsseldorf subsidiary into a listed building in Golzheim. A fantastic property, one of the very first high-risers in Germany. We installed a ventilation system there that was supposed to filter the fat and blow the air out of the kitchen into the inner courtyard,” Varol stated for the record. However it had to be enlarged immediately after it was finished. But even this didn’t produce the desired success. “Because we had already been threatened with closure due to imminent danger, we hastily installed a pipe to conduct the already filtered air out of the building over the roof. But just like with the planning for the ventilation system, everything went wrong with the pipe that we retrofitted as the company hadn’t installed it properly.”
The beginning of the end
Apparently two segments in the middle of the building had not been directly connected so that the air extracted out of the kitchen was able to circulate throughout the entire block of apartments. “It was a catastrophe. I went through hell at the time. The residents rebelled in my city and, naturally, the local media really jumped on the bandwagon.” However by this time, the successful restaurateur of today had already pumped a six-figure euro amount into the subsidiary. In spite of this, Varol pulled the plug and closed the eatery in Golzheim. “Luckily I owned the property at the time and we got everything up to scratch for the next tenant, who wanted to open a new restaurant, including specialist planners, fire protection and so on so we didn’t have any more headaches with it.” Today, the likeable burger fetishist is able to laugh about it, he learned his lesson out of the ventilation misery. “As a career changer to a restaurateur, you tend to think:
‚ventilation systems, that’s not really rocket science.‘
But all in all, if you don’t really have a clue about technical subjects, it really is rocket science. Ultimately a restaurateur does have the capability to foresee and plan for it. That’s why it’s important to do your homework and really tackle the issues and also exchange information with experts, get several offers and, under no circumstances, attempt to save money in this area. These are simple lessons I’d like to save others entering the restaurant trade having to go through.
Alongside nerves, time and money, this experience set back Varol’s expansion plans. “Naturally, we wanted to be further on after five or six years. I was lucky enough to not have to depend on this for my existence. That’s why I can look back with mixed feelings of tears and amusement. But it could have gone the other way too.”
But the Düsseldorf mayor doesn’t let this setback hold him back in any way. He is planning new burger creations, restaurant concepts and naturally his expansion for the future.
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