Bonn Max Kugel creates a furore with handicrafts and organic flour - and cleverly presents his bread shop in social media. Here is how he has established himself in the Südstadt district of Bonn.
At Max Kugel's the storytelling begins at 4.30 in the morning. He stands in the bakery - always wearing a baseball cap on his head. The 29-year-old almost always has his mobile phone with him. He films himself kneading bread dough, adjusting the oven or putting steaming bread on a long wooden board to cool down. Then Kugel uploads the short videos to Instagram. More than 7000 followers enjoy the insights into the everyday life of a young master baker. For two to three hours a day, Kugel takes time for social media, takes pictures, writes texts, answers questions. Sometimes he visits other bakers and introduces them.
Even before the opening of his shop three years ago, he had posted videos of the construction site on Facebook. "I think at the beginning it is incredibly important for people to get to know you," says the master baker. In the meantime, the social media are just the amplifier, says Kugel. People come for the taste of his bread. "And no longer because of the cool look of the shop and the hip design."
Ten loaves, no nonsense
But Kugels shop is also something special. You can only buy bread, but no canapés, pastries or cakes. And he only has ten kinds of bread on offer. Nine of them are permanently available, one variety changes daily. Kugels breads are called "Johnny", "Little Black" or "Full Hut Spelt". He uses only organic flour, and he gives baking additives of all kinds a wide berth, says Kugel. The young baker does not need larger machines either. Every loaf of bread is formed by hand.
In this way, he wants to distinguish himself from normal bakers, especially the "full-range" ones who offer everything from sandwiches to sheet cakes, meringue and wraps. "People have lost more and more confidence in the baker", he thinks. "With the chains, many things taste the same." Many bakers simply no longer have a feeling for the product and for the dough. "Then they turn to baking mixes and machines to guarantee the quality, at least visually." Instead, he himself wants to concentrate "on the essentials".
At the same time the young baker knows how to put himself in the limelight. For the first time he can be compared with the large bakery Harry Brot in the WDR programme Quarks. Sometimes he presents his concept at the "Be.Inside" conference to executives from trade and industry - and is not a bit fazed. The gastro magazine "Feinschmecker" calls him the "purist" among German bakers.
Stable concept even during the pandemic
Kugel’s concept has passed its first test: During the coronavirus pandemic, Kugel did not have to put any of its twelve employees on short-time work. "Just at the beginning, business went through the roof." The people, says the baker, were in panic mode. "There were very long queues, and at 4 pm the shop was closed because we can only bake and sell a certain amount of bread." Other bakers, on the other hand, lost sales because of Corona. The city centres were empty, sales of coffee and cake collapsed, and even restaurants no longer needed bread. This was no problem for Kugel: "We don't have any coffee and we don't supply anyone.“
Rebelling against resistance at home
Kugel comes from a family of bakers in Rhineland-Palatinate. But he did not want to take over his father's business with his brother: "When you have three dominant men, where everyone wants to decide, then it becomes difficult.“ As the youngest in the family, he would have found it particularly difficult to assert himself. And so he decided to do his own thing.
Kugel spent most of his apprentice years in Bonn and it was here that he met his girlfriend at the time. That's also how he fell in love with the city. Bonn also has advantages for Kugel's concept. Because preferences for bread vary greatly throughout Germany, he says. "I can offer bread types from very dark to very light here. The Rhinelander likes to eat different types of bread.“
Customers keep asking him if he could add something sweet or sandwiches to his range. But Kugel sticks to his concept. In September he celebrates the shop's third anniversary. The camera remains his constant companion. "My employees always say: Watch out," says Kugel and laughs. "At some point the mobile phone will end up in the oven and nobody will notice."
(Original text: Till Uebelacker / Translation: Mareike Graepel)