Chapter 1


If someone asked me to paint a picture of the modern, multi-cultural Berliner on paper, it could certainly be someone like Anna. She was born to a German mother and an Italian immigrant father, raised in Spandau, and at 30, she’s now comfortably settled into a cosy altbau apartment with her French partner in Schillerkiez. But don’t get me wrong. If there is one thing that Anna is definitely not, it’s a stereotype. Nope, Anna is a ballsy, young businesswoman with a philosophical past, a lifelong passion for food, and a healthy appetite for socialising with her Neukölln neighbours over backgammon.

By day, Anna can usually be found bustling around behind the counter of her restaurant-meets-cafe-meets-food store MA feine Kost, taking on whatever role du jour her newly-opened business demands. One morning, you’ll catch her prepping a platter in the kitchen, while coordinating the upcoming shift plan with one of her employees. The next, she can be seen restocking wines before popping out of the store to run errands around the corner. A sociable host, she welcomes her guests with a smile and is always happy to chit chat with friends and strangers alike.

Once the floors are mopped, the cheeses wrapped, and everything has once again found its way back to its designated place for the night, passers-by can sometimes observe Anna sitting alone in her shop window. The light of her laptop screen dancing off her face through the glass. This was precisely the scene that greeted me as I turned the corner into Kienitzer Straße on an early September evening. It was a cinematic sight and I stood there for a few moments and watched her work before crossing the street to pick her brains about entrepreneurship, life, and Mediterranean cuisine. Here eyes were fixated on her laptop and looked rather serious as she jotted something down on a piece of paper. Night or day, watching Anna do her thing can easily make you feel like you’re observing the gastronomic manifestation of the Hindu goddess Durga from afar (who, if you aren’t familiar with her, has 8-18 arms and rides a tiger or lion, depending on who you ask). Presumably, thus is the life of a restauranteur.

So how does she do it? And why? Why food, why wine, why here, why now? Well, that’s precisely what I had biked across town to find out—photographer Daniel Eceolaza, audio recorder, and a long list of far too many questions in tow.

Anna, tell me a little bit about your path in life. How did you get to where you are today?

There is this German saying, “Many roads lead to Rome.” I guess that’s probably what describes me best. I was born in Berlin and went to school here. Straight after high school I started a little music label with friends. My position was running the events, so that meant a lot of set-ups and weekends—very physical work really. About a year later, I decided that I’d like to have some “brain food” so to speak, so I started studying philosophy at Free University of Berlin. I studied part-time while working at the label. In total, I worked there for about eight years. However, for the last two, I took a bit of a time off to finish my degree. At some point I started working in a bar, which meant that I could work at night and be in the library during the day.

After finishing my studies, I was offered the position of bar manager and so, along with a list of other reasons, some of which were not so great, I left the label. We’re still on good terms and it still exists today, but we went in different directions. I briefly considered turning my studies into a career of some sorts. But I realised that with philosophy this meant staying at university and becoming an academic, and I was never convinced or into it enough to really see myself working in the academic world.

So instead I ran the bar for a few years. I think at some point, everyone who works in a managerial position in gastronomy for a while gets this idea, “Oh geez, there are so many things that I would do differently if only I had my own place” into their head. At that point, I was very much used to being self-employed. I had never really been employed, nor had I ever had what many would consider a ‘normal’ job. And one thing lead to another and I decided that I was going to start my own thing.

Describe a typical day in your life right now.

Six out of seven days of the week I am in the shop or doing things for the shop. Right now I’m just really busy with all that. It’s the beginning, so there are a lot of things that constantly need to be taken care of. I could probably use another seven days in the week to get everything done on time. And then there is the seventh day: Sunday. And that day is really religious for me. On Sundays, I try to not do anything work-related. I have a little piece of land in southern Berlin where I grow fruit and vegetables. I like going there and doing a little planting and harvesting at this time of the year. I usually just get out of the city. Just drive away...

Why did you choose to study philosophy? How did your degree impact how you see the world?

I wanted to feed my brain with something. I was always really interested in that, whatever “that” is—thinking about the world and deeper meanings maybe. It was really important to me that I study something that would not automatically mean a specific kind of job. But just something where you were free to choose what interested you and the direction it would take. At my university, if you put yourself in the position of choosing your path and didn’t allow yourself to be guided through the entire program, you were really free. I was very lucky that I had the courage to do precisely that.

I think it made me very humble with regard to my own opinion. I’m pretty sure that before my studies I was a person full of (what I considered) “right” opinions about the world. Very bold in a way. Very convinced of how I saw things. And then, when you study philosophy, you discuss every topic with people. You have a lot of different input and a lot of strong opinions. You learn to create your own arguments and how to find a sound basis for your opinions. You start making sure that you have your grounds covered; you’re not just saying “bla” or having an opinion because that’s what you grew up with or heard somewhere. There are many ways to ensure that what you are thinking is right or wrong. I guess thats what I learned. I got really good at being okay with different lifestyles and opinions.

How would you describe your relationship with food?

Very loving. I’m always being made fun of because I talk to food and plants. I guess I grew up with parents who were interested in what we ate. Not really the gourmet types, but definitely people who cook a lot. They both come from regions where food plays a big role [in everyday life]. My father is originally Italian, but he grew up in Germany, and my Mum is from southern Germany. In my family there is a strong belief in the connection between food and the fact that what you cook has an impact on how you live.

I’m not a connoisseur. I almost always cook for myself. Except when I’m really exhausted or when I really want to have a good time. Yes, I like to go out for fine dining or buy special things, but the more simple things are the ones that really make me happy. Like Käsespätzle. It’s super cheap: flour and eggs and cheese and nothing else. Perfect.

And the food industry?

I guess I have an educated perspective with regard to the food industry; it’s definitely not the best industry. When I was working on the concept of this store, I read up on a lot of theories and statistics on the topic. I was really shocked when I read that, in the German population, the average amount we spend on food, whether it’s what we buy for ourselves for the fridge or the money we spend on eating out, is about 20% of our income. Whereas in France and Italy, for example, (the countries which I compared as references) it’s up to 50%! And they're not exactly earning more money, nor are their food industries necessarily better developed. They just place a higher value on what they eat.

Deep down inside, I'm definitely more on their side. I guess I’ve never really earned a lot of money, because I’ve always done things that do not make a lot of money. But what counts for me is that I still spend most or all of my money on food.

Where do you buy your groceries?

I get most of my personal groceries (dry foods, vegetables, and fruits) delivered from Märkische Kiste. I’ve been doing that for years. And the rest, I guess, just standard supermarkets. Now with the shop, my cheeses and meats I take from here obviously. Or from my mum who gets all her meat from this little farm in Bavaria. She goes there a few times a year, buys from this organic farm, and then freezes it. I also really enjoy going to this Arab butcher around the corner. When I do buy meat, I usually get it from there. But then again, I don't really eat so much meat because I don't exactly have the money to buy the really good kind. I can easily live without it.

That said, I can absolutely do McDonalds at 3 a.m. no problem. That happens sometimes and then I know that I’ve eaten shit. But I guess thats the whole point of it then. Just feed yourself with something very satisfying and very shitty.

If you were a food, what food would you be and why?

The first thing that comes to mind, because it’s probably the thing that I eat the most and probably also like the most, is a very simple pasta. The one that I know I always have all five ingredients at home for: oil, garlic, peperoncini, fresh tomatoes and grana. It’s a very easy and fast thing, and it’s very convincing because it always makes me happy. You can barely fuck it up. It’s very comfy and heart-warming, but not boring.

Where does your French and Italian fascination stem from?

Well, part of my roots are Italian, but I grew up very far away from that side of the family. The bits of Italian language that I did picked up I either learned at university or with my boyfriend at the time who was Italian. Essentially, I always had this knowledge that it’s a part of my heritage. That, and this genuine love for their very simple cuisine.

The French fascination is probably rooted in my little stint in Bordeaux after high school. I lived there for a few months and was really into the language. That said, in some way I’ve always had a connection to France. My mum grew up 20 minutes from the French border. I would say that their way of consuming food, their way of thinking, and their social lives in that region are all very close to what we think French culture is about—long dinners with friends and neighbours; gardens and big tables with plates full of different dishes and snacks. Whenever we meet up, food, cooking, herbs, and all those things play a big role.

Who are the people in your life who made it possible for you to open this store?

Aside from the people working here...the support system: I’m very, very lucky that I have my family here in Berlin. They’ve all helped in their own way, mostly by just being absolutely sure that this is something that I should at least try. They were really supportive, all four of them.

I also consider myself very lucky to have a big group of friends from school, university, and from my work with the label. I’ve gathered quite a big group of people over the past 20-25 years and, fortunately, I have really strong connections with most of them. They're all very lovely people. I know a lot of people who are really skilled and I always can ask them for help.

My boyfriend, for example, built the entire website for me. I have friends who did the design and friends who helped a lot with the construction of this place—the painting, putting up the tiles, giving me advice on how things could look. I’m not an interior designer, but I guess for what I am, I think it turned out pretty great.

What is the most exciting thing about this life?

Especially with this job (but I think that probably goes for everything that I’ve done in the past and probably applies to my life in general) engaging with people. On all kinds of levels.

And the most challenging?

The same. It’s extremely exhausting to have to be so social all day long. My main job right now is the job of the host. People don't see that I’m also doing the accounting, the orders, the prep cooking, the cleaning, and the setting up in the morning. This is a really big part of my life as well right now. But what they do see is me as their host. And so, I am socially engaged all day long.

Sometimes I come home and I feel completely drained. I usually need an hour of nonsense just to shut everything out. Really advanced people would meditate or do yoga. I usually just come home and drink a tea, or maybe watch something or listen to an audio book or read a little bit. I exchange everything that happened throughout the day with something a bit more random. And that calms me down a lot. And then I can be social again.

I also have a partnership, and the man that I love, who I’m also living with, he wants to engage with me as well. So sometimes, I just need that break after work. A few minutes or an hour just for me. Just me, my kitchen, and my tea. And then I can be with him.

This business, you started it by yourself and you built it from the ground up. What was your biggest challenge in this process?

The pre-opening phase I guess. The biggest challenge was finding a good location and making it work with the loan I took out. Finding a good location in Berlin is a tricky thing in itself. Finding a good location in a specific area is pretty much the trickiest. It’s probably even harder than finding an apartment, and that’s already insanely hard.

But then the very complicated and the kind of the stressful part starts when you actually find something and then you have to make it work with the loan, because in order to get the loan you have to have the business plan yes, but also a guaranteed location. But you cannot really start renting a location without the loan. What you have to do, if you choose this kind of financing, is you have to find people who are selling their business, make pre-contracts with them, make pre-contracts with the landlords, make sure that they are okay with waiting for a few weeks, because getting a loan from the bank takes a while (between one month and five). And they have to be okay with the chance of that partner not getting the loan. And then they might lose a lot of money because they could have sold it to someone else. So finding someone that is willing to run that risk together with you and be okay with maybe not having a done deal in the end…you lose a lot of sleep over it.

If you could give any advice to someone starting their own business in your sector, what would you say to them?

What I’m in the middle of learning right now is that you really have to try to imagine how your life will change in terms of time. That means not being available and all the things that you won’t be able to do, at least for a while. And the crazy amount of hours that you will have to spend working and the impact that this will have on your friendships and relationships. Try to imagine that as much as possible and be aware of the fact that what you imagine will probably never be close to reality.

I met my boy pretty much half way into planning this whole thing. And then, when it started to become serious between us, I felt this strong need to warn him. I told him “Hey, I don't even know how this is going to impact my life, but I’m guessing it will turn everything around. And I will probably be everything from an emotional nutcase to crazy workaholic. I will probably be everything for quite a while. I might fail and then this would have a financial impact on us. I might succeed and then this would also have a financial impact on us.”

It’s a crazy challenge. It’s such a crazy challenge. So I think, if going back to your question, I could tell someone something about starting your own business:

Be aware of how much it is going to change your life and try to discuss that with the people that are important to you as much as possible. They will have to cope with it. You will have to cope with it. Everyone will have to find an arrangement with that situation, and not being aware of it, not talking about it, not putting that on the table and making it a constant topic that everyone has to work with, is probably the worst thing that you can do. It’s completely naive and blind-folded.

Merci Anna.

Interview: Maia Frazier
Image: Daniel Eceolaza

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