Interview with Janusch Munkwitz

Janusch Munkwitz is an experienced gastronome and managing director of the architecture and design firm Supersupply Limited. He runs Jules Café at B-Part Am Gleisdreieck and provides, together with his team, the B-Part community as well as neighbors and park visitors with sweet and savory treats and delicious coffee. He also owns the “Café Bravo” in Berlin as well as the “Paul & George” bar, the “Condesa Café & Bar” and the “Sattlerei” in Stuttgart. In this interview, he shares with us his thoughts on crisis management in times of COVID-19 and what effects the current situation will have on the gastronomy.

Dear Janusch, until recently, Jules Café at B-Part Am Gleisdreieck was closed for almost a month. What made you come to this drastic decision?

I saw it less as a drastic decision, but rather as the most rational solution. Even before the daily business, we saw already a sharp decline in event bookings. We reacted to the given situation on time and took the necessary protective and hygienic measures. However, when new regulations were published “on an hourly basis,” we felt that the most reasonable thing to do – for our team and our guests – was to close B-Part Am Gleisdreieck.

I must say it feels very bizarre. When did we ever have to get used to so much in such a short time? Or weigh up health against economic goals? In general, I think we are very lucky here in Germany in the way this pandemic is being dealt with.

How have you experienced the past weeks, and how did you face the numerous challenges?

Everybody had to get used to this situation first and this at high speed! Try and error, what are the Do’s and Don’ts, applications, calculations and at the same time keep an eye on the news and changes. Our tasks also included simple things like recycling of goods. We passed on many of our fresh products to older people and the team. Those were really “special” days and nights…

I was in exchange with several other gastronomes and entrepreneurs to stay on track and get many new updates as possible. It was also important for me to talk a lot with my team to soften their fears or answer questions and to keep the team spirit going.

Afterward, I asked myself: What can be optimized? How can we increase the chance of surviving the situation in the best way possible? What has been out of focus lately? For example, I was able to devote myself again to graphic design, the internet presence and the whole subject of digitalization. All points that will increase our ability to act in the long term – that has encouraged me to keep going.

You mentioned the topic of digitization: many companies are currently benefiting from digital working models. Is this topic taking on a new significance in the gastronomy?

It does – I hope in a positive way! For example, I don’t like the idea of ordering my coffee with my mobile phone and then picking it up somewhere. In general, digitalization and gastronomy do not fit together for me. I also think that’s what many people are missing at the moment: real togetherness instead of digital encounters. But digital tools make a lot of sense, for example, to optimize processes, manage inventories or offer takeaway orders in a charming and cool way.

Were you able to draw something positive out of this situation for you?

I wouldn’t say “positive” in this context but I’ve learned a lot and drew conclusions for the future. For example, the loyalty of our customers and the whole team is worth so much! Great team spirit and good cooperation towards everyone really helps to get through such a tough phase. The special thing of this situation is that nobody can be blamed; we are all in the same boat – only the consequences are felt differently by everyone.

It is exciting to see how everyone sticks to the “rules of the game” to get through this time together. At the same time, however, we continue to think ahead to counteract this phase as quickly as possible – I think that is one of the most positive things about this situation.

Café Jules has been opened again half-day for takeaway since last week. Does this option help your business and is it a step towards “normality”? Is there a delivery service planned?

B-Part and Jules Café are places to meet, to feel the urbanity and to make new acquaintances. So the current step doesn’t feel like normality for me. Nevertheless, we can finally bring our hospitality and good service back to the people. Our guests have missed our coffee and we have missed our customers, so it is an important thing and a great feeling to be able to open again.

Of course, the easing of the restrictions can’t replace the regular operation but at least it is something. I have always been guided by the principle: if I earn even one euro in a shift, I have still generated a shift, so an employee has earned money and can, therefore, pay part of his rent – having that in mind helps to keep going.

A delivery service is definitely planned – as soon as possible! But it’s important: Every step we take now needs to be worth for the future, as an “add-on” to normal operations. That’s why you have to be very careful not to go into the wrong direction; it happens so easily to choose the wrong path and by that lose sight of what you’re actually doing.

The uncertainty about the coming months accompanies us all. What effects do you expect and what is your outlook for the rest of 2020?

I am not able to make a correct forecast. If you stick to the DEHOGA (German Hotel and Restaurant Association), 30% of the gastronomy sector will go bankrupt – that would be awful, of course. Mainly because it is unclear how long and how tight the regulations will be kept. Maybe we will lose the whole summer or even longer…

What is the situation after the Corona crisis? Will people be willing to sit in a beer garden or a restaurant? When will the current uncertainty subside again? I hope that after “social distancing,” people will feel the need of having a coffee or a beer together again – even if it has to be with distance and mask.

You put Jules Café at “Helfen.Berlin”. What experiences have you made with this platform?

This platform is very well constructed. I found it remarkable how quickly such platforms has been created for support. In the meantime, we have also registered with Kiezhelfer (Tagesspiegel newspaper) and VR-ExtraPlus. And even if it’s just a “drop in the ocean,” it can help.

You have to be careful with these vouchers, though, because it’s a kind of small shift in liquidity. If all vouchers are redeemed immediately after the reopening, gastronomes like me will have the problem that they need a service and goods for it, which in turn cause costs. Nevertheless, it’s a great thing because we can see that people appreciate what gastronomy means for our everyday life, our well-being and our culture and want to support it. That gives me hope!

In conclusion: What advice would you like to give on this Corona crisis?

First: #SupportYourLocalDealer: Please buy and consume as locally as possible now and also in future! A disadvantage of the gastronomy is that it cannot generate catch-up effects. A dinner or date planned for now will not be repeated, but will then be another dinner or date.

So, go and get as many to go coffees as possible, take a delicious cinnamon bun, don’t skip dessert at any dinner – of course, every dinner table should have a bottle of wine (laughs). It will then be good for all of us to enjoy the returning quality of life to the fullest and learn to appreciate this “normality.” It is a valuable good that needs to be protected. If you keep this in mind the gastronomy, small shops and suppliers will slowly recover after this crisis. I would like to point this out in order to preserve our cities and cultures – not only the “big players” should make it out of this crisis.

…and not completely altruistically I would like to add that we have perfected our pizza and switched to sourdough – I am super satisfied. So come over and have some pizza!