• Germany edition
 
Organic Berlin firm targets primate palates

Organic Berlin firm targets primate palates

Published: 19 Mar 2008 16:23 GMT+01:00
Updated: 19 Mar 2008 16:23 GMT+01:00

The Hamburglar lurks nearby, but he’s no match for Gorilla.

A now dusty mural of McDonald’s burger-pilfering villain is all that remains to remind pedestrians on Berlin’s busy Friedrichstrasse that there used to be a branch of the world-famous fast food chain here.

And the Hamburglar hasn't just been deserted by Ronald the clown, Mayor McCheese and their slightly disturbing purple blob of a friend Grimace. Instead of lining up for Big Macs and extra large portions of fries, people now crowd into a store next door for tasty vegetarian fare.

As Germany’s ranks of health-conscious and environmentally aware consumers continue to swell, Gorilla – as the design-hip, new organic restaurant is known – hopes to become their fast food destination of choice.

At least one German had been won over at the grand opening of the new Gorilla flagship store in central Berlin last week. Perched behind a tray full of rocket salad, fresh squeezed juice, and the house specialty – a warm salad of mixed vegetable, wholegrain pasta and savory sauce – Jan Vureng said he’d definitely be back.

"It's healthy, but it's still good," said the 30-year-old, adding he admired the stylish atmosphere of the restaurant as much as the food.

But as fundamentally different as the 100-percent vegetarian Gorilla is from 100-percent beefy McDonald’s, the company’s animated 34-year-old founder Matthias Rischau has a supersized portion of respect for Ronald’s red-and-yellow keepers for overhauling their menu in recent years to appeal to healthier lifestyles.

"McDonald's is good at reacting to trends and they are trying to become more socially responsible these days," Rischau told The Local at the grand opening on March 13.

The wiry-haired Rischau, with his passion for vegetarianism and the environment, could easily be lumped in with Germany’s legions of McDonald’s haters. The ubiquitous US burger chain, which has some 50 of restaurants in Berlin alone, faces fierce opposition from some quarters. In September 2007, the opening of a new franchise in Berlin’s alternative Kreuzberg district even sparked the creation of a protest group that called itself McWiderstand – or McResistance in English.

And Rischau, who swore off meat nine years ago, says he was resistant to letting his kids eat junk food when he came up with the idea for Gorilla. With his brood in mind, Rischau opened his first tiny Gorilla snack bar in Berlin’s western Charlottenburg district in 2005.

“At first we mostly had women customers wanting something healthy for their small children. A lot of people didn't understand what we were about," he admitted.

Rischau, who has plans to open other branches in Berlin this year, eventually wants to take Gorilla’s tasty veggie cuisine and crisp minimalist design nationwide, and said he tried to apply some of McDonald's corporate logic to his contradictory-sounding "natural fast food."

“We want to be a brand. We want to set up franchises. If an entrepreneur is putting all his effort into something it’s more likely to work,” he told The Local.

To create a recognizable brand, Rischau had young design company ett la ben create an image reflecting the simplicity of Gorilla’s food. The concept behind the food is based on what a big primate would eat in the wild: local fresh and vegetarian fare low in sugar and fat.

But in the urban jungle, finding healthy food on the go is challenging, so Rischau decided to make it easy for people who "already have enough stress in their lives." Whenever possible, ingredients for Gorilla's savory soups and crisp salads come from regional producers. Rischau stresses that this is part of why he calls the cuisine "natural," and not "organic" – since another part of playing the primate role means having a low impact on one's surroundings, according to head Gorilla Rischau.

It's an admirable idea, but the marriage between fast food and natural food could be a rocky one, according to Alexander Schramm, Director of Corporate Affairs for McDonald's in Germany. "It's not possible to convert to organic on a large scale," he told The Local.

In the last few years, McDonald's Germany has introduced products like the wildly popular Bionade natural soft drink, gourmet chicken products and organic milk in response to consumer demand for more organic food. But it can mean serious logistical problems, Schramm said, making it unlikely that McDonald's will ever be threatened by the growing natural food movement or the ambitions of restaurants like Gorilla. "We make our own goals," he said confidently.

Certainly it might never be possible to match McDonald’s ease of ordering and being served. Gorilla’s first customers in downtown Berlin did seem to be having trouble negotiating the salad bar – a food phenomenon rarely seen in meat-loving Germany – and the cashiers seemed frustrated by a cranky scale that weighed plates full of healthy fare. Another customer complained of lukewarm soup.

Emiel Hondelink, a former McDonald's executive and gastronomic consultant to Gorilla, was busily replenishing the salad bar on the restaurant's opening day. He agreed that the concept won’t usurp the fast food giant any time soon.

“Going completely vegetarian is real culinary challenge. We’re not just offering some bland tomato soup here,” said the affable Dutchman Hondelink from behind the salad bar. "But it's the right concept at the right time."

www.gorilla-natuerlich.de/

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
German of the Week
Should we all get €12,000 a year?
Martin Bohmeyer has not worked for money in six months. Photo: DPA

Should we all get €12,000 a year?

What would happen if everyone was suddenly paid €1,000 a month with no strings attached? "Let's try it," says Michael Bohmeyer, who raised the money through crowdfunding and will now experiment with the idea of a basic income for one year. He is The Local's German of the Week READ  

Language barrier foils supermarket hold-up
Communication is key for cops and robbers alike: Photo: DPA

Language barrier foils supermarket hold-up

An armed robber fled a Berlin supermarket empty-handed in frustration over his lack of German language skills, the Tagesspiegel newspaper reported Thursday. READ  

Four Germans on missing Air Algérie flight
A Swiftair flight Photo: EPA/SWIFTAIR

Four Germans on missing Air Algérie flight

UPDATE: Four Germans were among the 116 people onboard a Air Algérie flight which crashed over Mali on Thursday, according to the airline which operated flight number AH5017. READ  

Munich midwife 'tried to kill pregnant mums'
The hospital in Munich where the midwife worked. Photo: DPA

Munich midwife 'tried to kill pregnant mums'

A midwife in Munich stands accused of trying to murder four pregnant mums during childbirth using a blood-thinning drug. READ  

Top university switches master's to English
Munich's TU university wants to switch its master's programmes to English. Photo: DPA

Top university switches master's to English

UPDATE: One of Germany’s top universities wants to ditch German and switch almost all of its master’s programmes to English in the next six years, prompting fears that the academic standing of the German language is under serious threat. READ  

Death sentence for Afghan reporter murderer
Anja Niedringhaus (r) with colleague Kathy Gannon in 2013. Photo: DPA

Death sentence for Afghan reporter murderer

A former Afghan police commander has been sentenced to death in Kabul for the killing of German war reporter and photographer Anja Niedringhaus in April this year. READ  

ECB blackmailed after data stolen
The ECB building (right) in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

ECB blackmailed after data stolen

The European Central Bank in Frankfurt has received a blackmail letter after its public website was hacked and contact data stolen, the bank said on Thursday. READ  

Manhunt on for police officer's killer
Police searching the area on Thursday morning have released an e-fit of the suspect. Photo: DPA/Polizei Hessen

Manhunt on for police officer's killer

UPDATE: An off-duty police officer was shot dead in a street in western Germany on Wednesday night, prompting a large-scale manhunt for the culprit. READ  

Berlin is Europe's fastest growing tourist city
Photo: DPA

Berlin is Europe's fastest growing tourist city

Berlin is the fastest growing tourist destination among Europe’s major cities, with overnight stays in the capital up eight percent in 2013. It could soon topple Paris as Europe’s number two tourist city. READ  

Lufthansa flight ban is 'surrender to terror'
Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International airport board shows cancelled flights from Europe on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Lufthansa flight ban is 'surrender to terror'

Politicians criticized German flight operators for "surrendering to terror" after they refused on Thursday to resume flights to Tel Aviv, despite a US decision to lift a two-day flight ban to the Israeli city. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
instagram.com/gotzemario
Gallery
Germany's World Cup stars share their holiday photos
Travel
Plans unveiled for bike trail along former Iron Curtain
Photo: DPA
Sport
Yoga helped Jogi's boys bring World Cup home
Photo: DPA
National
Pressure on police over anti-Semitic protests
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The Local List: 12 best words in German
Photo: DPA
Politics
View from Germany: 'Nobody will win in an economic war with Russia'
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
Jobtalk: How innovative is Germany?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
German Bucket List: How many of these can you tick off?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Germany's week in pictures: July 12th - July 18th
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
Which workers is Germany short of?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Ten best expat jobs in Germany: Which one would you choose?
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Photo: Shutterstock
Features
Some of the most embarrassing mistakes you can make in German
Education
Raising the bar for law & business in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
Sponsored Article
Bilingual school turning education on its head
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,285
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd