Feeding the Frontline Heroes: Interview with Our Friends at BALDON.
In keeping with our new blog series exploring how our community is navigating the lockdown, and how you might be able to help, we thought we’d talk to our friends at Baldon - one of our fave Berlin restaurants who happen to be our downstairs neighbours at Lobe Block.
Over the safe social distance of a phone call, we caught up with Jessi, one half of the duo behind Baldon. We talked about the struggles for independent business amidst the current crisis and how they’re currently devoting their culinary resources to providing daily meals to frontline healthcare staff as part of the #CookingForHeroes movement.
If you feel compelled to support Baldon through this crisis, you can do so by swinging by the restaurant and grabbing lunch to take away or a weekend care package. Check their Instagram for opening hours and menu options.
More than their delicious (yet somehow healthy) menu, we love Baldon because they hold importance for something that also means a lot to us at HUNDHUND: community.
Whether it be inviting chefs from all over the world to present their cuisine, hosting events in support of Berlin culture, or simply bringing up a delicious lunch while we are photoshooting, the Baldon girls have consistently inspired us in their efforts to support those around them.
But sadly, like many other independent businesses, the crisis has hit them hard.
Their space is quite unique and special, so they like to use it as more than just a restaurant, Jessi explains, “We have a little food market where we sell homemade bread and natural wine…. And we get a lot of requests for corporate events and weddings. That’s how we earn our money.”
So, with their income dependent on large events, unsurprisingly, when the lockdown restrictions were implemented, the future of their business became clouded in uncertainty.
“Like with any restaurant, it was quite a shock. Because for gastronomy, January and February are hard months, so we were really looking forward to starting our events in March. But then this happened. So we started to do takeaway options and we separated the tables out and people still came for lunch, but then on March 15th we were forced to close.”
But rather than sit in their beautiful, empty restaurant, they decided to immediately transform the negative situation into something positive by doing what they do best: cooking.
The #CookingForHeroes project was started by Maximilian Strohe and Ilona Scholl, the owners of the Michelin-starred restaurant Tulus Lotrek in Kreuzberg. Following the lockdown, they were in much the same position as Baldon, but after connecting the dots between unused kitchens, perishing fresh produce and hungry healthcare workers, they realised how they could help. They put the word out and soon enough, a network of volunteering restaurants emerged, Baldon among them.
“We were so excited to find the project as we had so much food left in our storage,” Jessi tells me, “Now we’re together with all these other restaurants in Germany feeding people on the front line.”
Baldon cooks for two hospitals in particular: Bundeswehrkrankenhaus Hospital in Mitte and Charité Virchow, just around the corner from us in Wedding.
“Every day, seven days a week, we cook a big pot of something like a stew. We start at 8am and when we’re done we start preparing for the next day.”
But producing at the volume they do - around 700 portions a week - they needed some extra hands.
“We have a team who helps us to deliver the food, but we have to be careful not to have too many people coming in here, so it’s just a few close friends.”
When they’d used up all their food in storage, Baldon were keen to keep cooking, but they needed more ingredients. So they opened a Paypal donation account.
“We were overwhelmed by the response because you think that at this time nobody really has money, but we received a lot of donations. But also, along with the other restaurants we now have a big storage space at BRLO Brewery where there are [food] donations. So mostly we don’t even have to buy food because we can go there and work with the donations left by small producers or supermarkets.”
And even in these times, the Baldon girls sought to navigate their support through socially responsible means.
“It’s over 100 portions a day, so even if we used sustainable packaging it’s a lot of garbage, so we try to not use any type of packaging. We have big buckets [for the food] and we ask the hospital to bring their own cups and bowls. We provide everything like nice bread and a spoon for the stew, but other than that we don’t use any packaging. We just need one or two cars for a trip, and we have a sponsorship with WeShare so we can use their electric cars.”
“[The staff] are so so thankful. Every day they have a book where they write something in so we always have a message from them telling us how thankful they are.”
But as inspiring as this all may be, there’s a challenging reality that lingers beyond; the future of independent business.
“I don’t really know how it’s going to unfold for us long term. We can survive now, maybe until the end of May, but if we have to stay closed longer, then we’ll have to close permanently. It is hard, but right now we’re very positive about it.”
There are ways to help though, as Jessi explains:
“To help small businesses like us, people can buy vouchers to be used in the future. This can really provide support on a financial basis for the moment. I really feel that every euro helps.”
Check Helfen.Berlin to find vouchers for your favourite Berlin business.
Thank you to Jessi, and the entire Baldon team for showing such selflessness in the face of these adverse times.
You can find links to Baldon’s pages below.
Words by Ewan Waddell.