Taipei Times: What inspired you to set up a German bakery in Taiwan?
Michael Wendel: The idea came from my current Taiwanese business partner who had spent time in Germany and wanted to open an authentic bakery here, thinking that the Taiwanese would really love the bread. I agreed to give it a go, and what you see here is a result of that decision. That was over four years ago now.
TT: What resistance did you receive from the local community and who are your core clients?
Wendel: At the beginning local residents were slightly suspicious. They didn't have any idea of what a real German bakery is, as there are a number of bakeries around Taipei that give themselves the title German-style when in fact they are nothing of the sort. People who had been to these pseudo-German places would sometimes even tell me that my bread was not proper German bread!
But it was just a case of educating people about what a German bakery is really about -- natural, healthy, additive-free bread. But in general the neighborhood has been very supportive, as people are willing to come in and give new things a try and then introduce their friends to us.
I see us very much as a stronghold of German culture for the German community in Taiwan. Since we first opened, we have had a gathering here on the first Thursday of each month for German speakers. We sometimes have as many as 70 people turn up. We also have German card games every Wednesday nights here. I like to think that it is a mutually beneficial relationship -- I need the community and the community also needs me.
TT: Your family has a 70-year history in the bakery business, what advantages does this give you over the competition?
Wendel: My grandfather opened the family's first bakery in 1932 in Heidelberg. The business was then handed down through the family. But when it came to my turn to take over the reins, I decided that I wanted to keep the family tradition going, but in Taiwan rather than in Germany. Because of this history, I have the advantage of knowing a lot of traditional bread-making techniques and recipes that have been handed down over the generations. And some things can really only be done in this sort of traditional way.
Another advantage that my family background gives me is my training. In Germany, if you want to open a bakery you have to become a master baker. This involves an eight-year practical training period and a year in which you learn about the health and nutrition involved in bread-making. I am the only master baker in Taiwan. This means that I have a definite advantage over the local competition. Most importantly I know how to make good Western- quality bread, which is something that many local bakeries don't know.
TT: Work in in-flight catering initially brought you to Taiwan. What was it like working in that sector and what ultimately made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Wendel: China Airlines and Cathay Pacific were opening a new in-flight kitchen in Taiwan back in 1996. They were looking for a German master-baker pastry chef to run the kitchen and to try and train local staff. The in-flight kitchen serves international clients, so therefore needed international-standard bread. And many local stores simply can't meet this standard.
Having previously worked on a cruise ship, I was used to working with many different nationalities, but it was quite different working in an Asian culture. I still remember wanting to go home after my second day on the job. But it was just a question of getting used to it.