I didn’t hesitate at all when asked to interview the founders of Die Fette Kuh in Cologne. This burger shop, inside a space of just 50 square meters, has already made a name for itself due to its high quality ingredients and unique creations. This piques my interest and I wonder how one manages to gain such popularity across the country with a simple product like a burger?
We quickly set up a time to chat and very early into the conversation I realise their method of success. I’m already full of anticipation before the video conversation between Walter, who is the owner of Die Fette Kuh together with his wife, and Martin, his head chef, has begun. On the other side of the screen sit two men who are pursuing a vision against all sorts of adversities in life. Men with ambition and clear ideas, but above all with heart, soul, mind and a good pinch of intuition. They are down-to-earth and approachable, their language is warm and honest and their explanations are clear and direct. Maybe it's just the Kölsche style that immediately wins me over. But I soon realize that there’s more because with their idea, the duo has not only created a restaurant, but also a future-oriented business concept that paves the way for many others with its dedication to sustainability, social responsibility and local supply chains.
When Walter founded Die Fette Kuh nine years ago, it was clear to him that if he ran a restaurant, it would only be based on the best ingredients and fresh basic food. The convenience food movement had just reached its half-life and people began to look more closely at alternative ways of eating healthy. As is often the case, new approaches can be found in traditional values. The trained chef wanted to offer a product that is popular, can be prepared quickly, can be made with local and seasonal products and is popular across all societies. Everyone should be able to come and eat his restaurant and everyone should feel good and find healthy products. Even during their often short visits, Walter wanted his guests to fully enjoy his burger and fries with a clear conscience.
In a very short time, he and his team find local farmers with whom they have been working successfully to this day. Right from the start, the meat comes exclusively from cows that are kept better than any organic label requires. The potatoes also come from the area, as do the salad and bread. They are soon approached by other farmers and producers from the region who have heard about them and their way of cooking and working. You enter into cooperations. Walter purchases what suits the season well and establishes connections with other kitchens in the city so that the farmers in the area can not only supply Die Fette Kuh, but also others. You help each other. The customers feel this and support themselves wherever they can.
After a challenging start, in which the initially small team masters all tasks with dedication and almost self-abandonment, support is needed soon and Walter finds that in his head chef Martin. Martin, who previously worked in a vegan factory, immediately convinced Walter of his creative abilities. Both understand each other straight away. A professional collaboration turns into a friendship. Both wives are now working with them and are repeatedly praised as indispensable during the conversation. The entire team comprises 40 employees. Until the Covid-19 outbreak and the resulting restrictions, they cook for big events and the small company is growing steadily. The self-made sauces are successfully offered for sale online and new ideas are giving insight into an exciting future.
When the lockdown posed a major challenge for the country's innkeepers, Martin and Walter were initially speechless. But soon they have a brilliant idea. They set up their own delivery service within a day. All employees are engaged, cook, design and deliver. An own fleet of cars is organized, nobody has to work short-time and thanks to the idea of new delivery boxes and do-it-yourself burger sets, sales are increasing again. Not everything tastes as good when it is delivered as it would taste fresh, so the kitchen team thinks about it: everything is preserved, vacuumed and smoked, whatever it takes. The customers gratefully accept the new concept. Again everyone pulls together and no sooner has the crisis started than the busy team makes a virtue out of necessity.
Decisions that have been pushed back again and again up to now are made and implemented straightforwardly: “When, if not now”, says Walter spontaneously.
With no one knowing how long this particular situation will last, Walter, Martin, and their team begin reaching out to retailers and wholesalers. Sauces, pepper mixes, tarte flambée chips with sour cream and their own craft beer are developed and are now available in more than ten shops in Cologne and the surrounding area. You have been able to buy their products online for a long time, “but soon Die Fette Kuh will also fill supermarket shelves and delicatessen stores across Germany”, is the vision of the two Cologne-based companies.
I would like to know whether they have to deal with criticism in terms of alternative forms of nutrition. But they also thought of that. True to their motto of only using products that are not industrially manufactured, they create their own vegan patties made from chickpeas and flaxseed fresh every day. In addition, there are changing vegetarian options and all those who do not want to do without meat can be assured that the team regularly convinces themselves of what they are promoting with their dishes: “People still eat meat. Then we'd rather make sure that you get high quality meat from species-appropriate husbandry.”
You can exchange ideas with the farmers about seasonal products. It's not just about what's in season, but also about what has grown particularly well and is profitable. “Sometimes it is a real balancing act when it comes to pricing and consistent quality”, but the trained chefs do not make compromises. “If something is not feasible, then we just think about something else”, says Martin.
Without a doubt, the success of this small restaurant lies in its unique burgers, which not only taste good, but also look good. The entrepreneurial courage, the appreciation of local products, the quality standards and the constant further development of culinary options also leave a lasting impression. But what excites above all else are the people behind the name and the vision, behind the products, the sales department and behind the grill. They give the name Die Fette Kuh real value. Their intuitive, down-to-earth manner, the solidarity of all those who work for Die Fette Kuh and the general togetherness are not hidden from the customers. You can tell immediately that this is not just any of the many fast food restaurants, but a family-run company with vision, understanding and passion.
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Words: Esther Seibt
Photos: Paul Gärtner, Tom Hafner