Admiration, gratitude and excitement. That’s how I felt after my 2-hour interview with Niclas Wendler, one of two co-founders of the shop Hart und Herzlich: Pâtisserie unplugged.
Most days of the week, I find myself frustrated to some degree at the pace of startup life here in Leipzig. The cutthroat pace and economic warfare native to my Chicago upbringing are not so eager to leave me… it’s a process. However, in this unassuming patisserie lie two minds that are just as adept at building their dream as they are at crafting one of the best culinary experiences in Leipzig.
Three years ago, Niclas Wendler and Mirko Klug reunited after having worked together at a hotel patisserie in Dresden, then going their separate ways to patisseries in Berlin and Hamburg, respectively. Realizing the creative constraints were hurting the quality of their work, they worked through the night in a Hamburg bar on a plan for their own shop.
Hart und Herzlich was born out of a drive to work in a place where they could fully express their vision:
“A traditional Konditorei with a splash of modern design and technology, with an offering that is thoughtful, seasonal and always developing.”
There was “no seasonal food” back in his other job, said Niclas: “We must make strawberries all year, we have to put gold on the pastries. They had an image they wanted to present always, even if it wasn’t the patisserie way.”
This sense for “the patisserie way” is a feeling that Niclas connected to during a childhood vacation to France.
“I was so impressed with the patisseries, the boulangeries, [that] I knew this was something I wanted to do.”
Now, they spend the first week of every month after hours with some beers thinking, “which season are we in? What foods do we have? What tastes would we like to create? Something fruity because it’s summer? Is it ‘Christmas taste’ because we’re in November?”
Once the pastry is “in their heads,” Niclas and Mirko begin to consider ingredients and economics. They believe “taking the time to build something new and making it better is really important for a creative job.”
Reaching this point has been its own process, though. Touring Leipzig for potential locations, being told by shop owners that “no one will appreciate higher-end treats, they want big cakes with lots of cream,” and being turned away for public funding.
However, they had seen many successful, high-end patisseries in Berlin and reworked their application for the Mittelstandsförderprogramm to include the development of a mobile application. With this, they received funding. And with funding in hand, they chose a spot on the busy Georg-Schumann-Straße in Gohlis.
They named that pastry shop – you guessed it – Hart und Herzlich: Pâtisserie unplugged. “Our name means that what we do is hard work (not that we are hard guys), and that we do all things with heart.”
They also chose a not-so-straightforward name because they wanted people to ask what “Hart und Herzlich” meant in this context. Striking a deeper relationship with their customers is part of what gives not just their pastries, but their space, heart.
Intentionality runs deep through the culture here.
When one sees the display full of pastries with names like Brioche – Kirsch Tartelette mit Dulcey Creme und Kirschbiergel, Schokoladen Espresso Gugelhupf mit Passionsfrucht, and Pfirsich Törtchen mit Vanillemousse, one feels there is something more.
And they take the time to talk with customers, learning about their tastes and walking them through each creation to guide them to the best experience for them. Efforts like these, day in and day out, are behind the calls they get every month asking, what’s new? It’s why they get visits from all over Leipzig, and other cities, despite being quite a bit north of Zentrum.
In fact, it is this separation from the fast-paced, consumerist nature of Zentrum that facilitates a relationship of intentionality.
The Hart und Herzlich guys have time to talk to their patrons about their experience and are regularly given feedback, often without having to ask. Niclas says they look for small details, like “too crunchy or too soft… we strive towards incremental improvements, challenging ourselves by avoiding using gelatin or improving texture, by only using regional products. You can only do one step at a time, and it only works if customers are also willing to take that step.”
This reliance on the customers to join them in this world of details and complex combinations is, in my opinion, the trademark of their model. Taking the risk to bring their vision to life is why everyone who steps foot in their shop is driven to ask Niclas and Mirko questions and, ultimately, develop a relationship with a pair of young men who believe in something more.
Being so connected to your passion and your work is infectious, people feel that, and it’s why we come back. To feel the love and the warmth of human creation.
But for an entrepreneur, there is always a seemingly endless list of challenges; growing, or simply keeping, what you’ve built is an ongoing challenge in itself. I asked if they plan on working full time running every aspect of the shop, and Niclas told me:
“We’re building towards a self-sustaining space and will make the pioneer work in the first year. From there we can get to know people who might want to work here. If there is something we learned, it’s don’t burn yourself in your own store. It slowly creeps in that you take up more and more work and you burn yourself out… we are aware that this challenge is coming and are working towards it.”
If you were wondering if these guys can cater your next event or make you a wedding cake, think again. Demand is so high that they can’t accept any requests, especially for wedding cakes. They are often asked to employ more people, but their facility isn’t equipped for higher-scale production:
“Having people coming into the shop is the priority. Maintaining this space and culture is the core and focus, wedding cakes and other catering come after. This space is the heart, because everything else revolves around that.”
As I like to do whenever meeting with founders I appreciate, I ended our time together with one more question: How can I help? Niclas replied that he’d like to do more advertisement for Hart und Herzlich and host more workshops where they teach people how to make Törtchen.
So if anyone wants to learn how to make some one-of-a-kind treats together, let’s do it!
And if you’re feeling inspired to discover or follow your own passion, go after it. You won’t regret it.
A special thank you to Alex Yacine for joining me for the interview, asking wonderful questions and translating.