Restlos Gluecklich is a not-for-profit association based in Berlin that aims at raising awareness about the value of food by offering educational programs to schools, cooking workshops to people of all ages and restaurant services to clients keen on trying delicious, high-quality courses prepared with surplus ingredients, donated to them by local businesses.
BERLIN – It’s a cloudy Monday morning in the neighbourhood of Neukoelln. Bakeries, kebab restaurants and other local stores slowly open their doors to their daily clients. Tired from a long overnight bus ride I rush down the Kienitzer Strasse to reach the recently opened restaurant of Restlos Gluecklich. The association’s co-founders Leoni Beckman and Anette Keuchel, and their colleagues warmly greet me on my arrival.
The Restlos Gluecklich team invited local media outlets for the inauguration of their new restaurant on July 11th. Much to the journalists’ and my delight we were offered to try some of their culinary specialties to kick off the event. An initial photo call took place in the street and then all the journalists and I were taken to the kitchen where Daniel Roick, the cook, showed us some of his dishes and the ingredients – most of which is usually bread, vegetables and fruits – that came in that same morning. “I look at what I have and I make a completely new menu,” Daniel said. Lastly, once they were done with all their media obligations, Leoni and Anette sat down with me for an interview.
How did it all start? How does it compare to what your expectations were at the beginning?
Anette Keuchel: It all started with an article about a restaurant in Copenhagen where this model already exists. I went there and visited it and I really liked the idea. And then Leoni joined and we decided to do something in Berlin as well. We won a scholarship at Social Impact Lab in Berlin where we had the possibility to set up a project, to receive coaching and mentoring sessions and to have financial counselling. We didn´t have any idea about the process because we had never opened a restaurant.
Leoni Beckman: We had very low expectations because we started with the idea and we didn´t have anything concrete in mind. It´s quite funny when we look back at the things we spoke about at the beginning and a few months later we were discussing about the design of interiors, etc. But, afterwards, the expectations grew as the team changed. Every event changed the direction that we were taking and we tried a lot of different things: We tried breakfast, dinner events, catering, we tested different projects with children. We are actually still in a testing phase, it´s constantly developing.
Do you have any previous experience in either social entrepreneurship or food waste?
Anette Keuchel: No, it´s new to me. I was always looking for a project that really interested me and where I could maybe change things for the better, so when I heard about this idea I think i knew that it was a great one and that I would actually go for it. But I was not at all into food. I mean, I like cooking, but that´s all, and so now I am learning a lot from our cook when I do shifts in the kitchen.
What type of food consumers are your clients at the restaurant and those enrolled in your educational programs?
Leoni Beckman: We have three different types of clients, of all ages, coming in from different areas of the city as we have had a lot of media attention. Firstly, there are clients who come here to eat and they are usually interested in the topic. Then there are those ones visiting Berlin, who have heard about us and say “oh I´m here for a weekend and I really want to eat at your place because I was wondering how it works, how you can make a three-course menu out of donated surplus food.” The most interesting clients for me are those groups of five or six friends in which only one of them knows about us; they take them here without telling them before and for me this always makes a great effect on people.
Secondly, we have a group of about sixty volunteers who help us in the kitchen and with the service, and they do it because they like the concept and they say “wow, this is such a great thing and I am so angry about food waste and about the way we value food because we don´t actually do it.” They want to contribute to raise awareness. Volunteers also help us with our educational projects; we go into schools where there are hardly any kitchens anymore, children don´t even get a chance to cook there, so they are really grateful when we come and do something about food with the children.
And thirdly, we have clients that are looking for some new programs in their groups. They are usually engaged people and they are interested in having us come to their schools to work with their students.
I like the concept “Kulinarische Denkanstosse” (Culinary stimuli or incentives) because I think that it truly defines the purpose of your project. In every country and region of the world there are easily identifiable, culturally-shaped habits of consumption that define the reason why and the ways in which consumers waste food. What do you think are the main causal factors for food waste at the consumer level in Germany?
Anette Keuchel: In Germany, it´s important that you don´t leave anything uneaten on the plate because, I think, there is a consciousness in general that wasting food is bad. That is why we also offer big or small portions, we ask customers before and then we adapt to their needs. It´s not unpolite if you eat up your entire dish; that is not the case in Germany. And also, when you go to restaurants they don´t want to pay a large amount of money for food, it has to be cheap; but then of course you can´t offer good quality if it is cheap.
Leoni Beckman: Yeah, but in general, what we got to know in the last year by dealing so much with the topic is that the value of food is really lost, i would say, in our society. We go shopping and we don´t really see the resources that have gone into producing food and we buy fruits from the other side of the world, then we take them home and we throw them away. Also, in general, Germans don´t like to spend much money on food; it´s changing a little bit, there is this whole new food scene here in Berlin and in other big cities in Germany, but it´s going really slow. The consciousness for food as a valuable resource is not really there.
How did you come into contact with your current partners?
Anette Keuchel: Well, with Denn´s Biomarkt – that´s our biggest partner – for example, it was after or during our Crowdfunding campaign that we started last summer. They contacted us and asked us if we wanted to cooperate and get food from them. We have several other partners like QuitoBerlin, a cooperative that provides us with chocolate and chips which shelf life has only been surpassed by two months. Then we have a farmer, who was a friend of a team member, from whom we get these big zucchinis. So it´s a huge variety of partners that we have. The latest one is Coffee Circle, from which we get espresso, and they approached us as well.
Leoni Beckman: We noticed that the people that are coming to us, they know about us already. They offer us products which best-before date either has gone by or hasn´t yet and they ask us if we can use them. We got a lot of Easter Chocolate, with Easter packaging and it will expire next year; so we use it now for chocolate cakes and desserts and it´s great to have it.
Big retailers are always more reticent to donate their food surplus. However, have you tried to get in touch with them?
Leoni Beckman: We don´t need so much food, i mean, the food you use in a restaurant is really not that much and we also have a catering service, but at the moment we are completely satisfied with the amount that we get. Approximately 95% of our meals are made with food surplus. What we need to buy is only oil, sugar, salt, flower, soya milk and things like that.
It´s obvious that all of our partners sell organic food because they are the ones who care that their food is going to go another round, that it´s going to get another chance. However, we would not be opposed to receiving non-organic products, but so far nobody has approached us.
What kind of support would you like to receive from governmental institutions as a social entrepreneurship initiative?
Anette Keuchel: For us it was difficult to define what we were going to be. I mean, now we are an association that has a restaurant, but it was so difficult to find out what we could be because we are the first one of its kind in Germany and it was strange to the administration to be a restaurant but not for profit. So they didn´t really understand what we wanted, why we wanted it and that was really a big problem. It was a long way to get here.
Leoni Beckman: it was really difficult for us to find the right legal form, the right legal construct, because the German law is very restrictive. We are also some kind of a startup, but a not-for-profit startup, and in the food scene sometimes I think that we don´t fit into a lot of niches. The focus is too much on the internet and on the software startups and the help for us is sometimes a little low.
IMAGE AT THE TOP: Customers sit on the terrace outside Restlos Gluecklich’s restaurant. Source: Facebook profile/RESTLOS GLUECKLICH