• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Organic Berlin firm targets primate palates

The Local · 19 Mar 2008, 16:23

Published: 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.

Story continues below…

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)

Today's headlines
The Local List
The 10 worst German cities for students to find digs
Photo: DPA

It's the start of autumn, which means the start of the university year. But along with the excitement comes the stress of finding housing - and in some glamorous locations this can be a nightmare.

German broadcaster sues Turkey over confiscated video
Akif Cagatay Kilic. Photo: DPA

German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle said Monday it had filed a civil complaint after a Turkish minister's office confiscated a taped video interview with him.

Germany's 'James Bond' goes on trial over tax evasion
Werner Mauss. Photo: DPA.

Germany's former top spy, Werner Mauss, went on trial on Monday accused of hiding millions of euros from authorities.

Germany holds first national 'mermaiding' championship
Photo: DPA

Ariel would be proud.

Gallery
15 pics that prove Germany is totally enchanting in autumn
The Max-Eyth-See in Stuttgart. Photo: DPA.

As summer fades into a distant memory and you start to begrudge trading Birkenstocks for boots, these pictures may help change your perspective on the new chill in the air.

Left politician who smuggled refugee could lose immunity
Diether Dehm. Photo: DPA.

Die Linke (Left Party) politician Diether Dehm could lose his immunity as an elected official after he admitted to smuggling a refugee into Germany.

Merkel party leader admits sexism is a problem
Jenna Behrends complained that a member of CDU's Berlin government had called her a "big sweet mouse" in front of a large group. Photo: Sophia Kembowski/dpa

A leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party admitted Sunday that it has a problem with sexism in its ranks.

Ethiopia's Bekele nears record in Berlin marathon win
Participants in the Berlin marathon take to the streets on Sunday. Photo:Paul Zinken/dpa

Kenenisa Bekele narrowly missed out on the world record on Sunday as the Ethiopian won the Berlin marathon ahead of former winner Wilson Kipsang.

Europe needs deals to send migrants home: Merkel
Angela Merkal poses with Bulgaria's Prime minister Boyko Borissov (L) and Austrian chancellor Christian Kern (R) in Vienna. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Europe needs to secure more deals to send rejected migrants home, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told counterparts in Vienna.

Germany sees 'turning point' in birth rate decline
Children at a a kindergarten in Swabia. Photo: Nikolaus Lenau/Flickr

Is Germany's three-decade decline in birth rate now over?

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
National
Seven great reasons to stay in Germany this September
National
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
5,643
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd