‘I chucked in my Frankfurt banking job and turned my food blog into a career’

A young Malaysian expat had a "dream job" at Deutsche Bank. But she had the courage to do what many only fantasize about - she left it to pursue her passion.

'I chucked in my Frankfurt banking job and turned my food blog into a career'
Grace Teo, founder of Nyonya Cooking. Photo: Nyonya Cooking

Ever wanted to leave your job and become your own boss? Would you do it in Germany? Grace Teo has done just that.

The 30-year-old moved from Malaysia to Frankfurt in March 2011 to pursue a career in banking. But within a year, she had set up an online cooking publication as a side project – and it was so successful that she has since turned her hobby into a business.

The cooking blog Nyonya Cooking was born out of Teo’s frustration with the lack of authentic Asian cuisine in Germany, the young entrepreneur tells The Local.

“Unfortunately, there aren't many Southeast Asian restaurants in Frankfurt,” Teo laments. “There are some Thai restaurants, one or two Malaysian ones, one Indonesian.”

But even then, Grace finds the food to be “adapted for a German market.”  

So Teo vented her frustration by developing a YouTube channel and then setting up a website.

“I would post video recipes of food I liked or I was craving. At that time, there were no channels really for Malaysian cuisine. I then linked videos of the recipes to the website version, and began taking requests from my viewers.”

Slowly, the site gained in popularity.

“There was gradual growth. There was no point where we were like 'wow, now it’s growing crazy!' It was just a weekend thing.” 

But five years after she set it up, her YouTube channel has amassed more than 12 million views, and her website enjoys 36,000 individual visitors per month, she says.

At the moment, the business earns money through online advertising, and Teo is hoping to develop a tangible food product in the future.

Teo's Chilli Pan Mee. Photo: Nyonya Cooking

Leaving her job

Having a full-time banking job and simultaneously running Nyonya Cooking was highly demanding. So in 2016, Teo decided to focus on her blog full-time.

“Leaving banking was a very difficult decision. Working at Deutsche Bank was my dream job and I had a very good mentor there. It was really tough to say 'I’m leaving everything behind'. I tried to organize a part-time position, but the nature of the job didn't allow for that. There were lots of deadlines and meetings.”

Family support gave her the final push to start her own business.

“I spoke to my mum, and she said 'If that’s what you want, go for it. I just want you to be happy.' My husband is also very supportive.

“I sometimes miss the corporate life,” she admits. “I miss meeting a lot of people, having people contact and colleagues being around. I’m by myself now, no one is watching over me! Now I have more control over my own work. The toughest part is staying self-motivated.”

Working for yourself is “tough but interesting, since you have to consider things you never had to before,” she adds.

“At work you get assigned to do tasks, now I have to think 'what’s the next step?' and 'is it the right step?' Depending on yourself is tricky.”

Establishing a business in Germany

Nyonya Cooking has been a German company since February, taking about two weeks to register at the Gewerbeamt (trade office), with another two months' worth of paperwork from November 2016 onwards with the Arbeitsamt (employment agency), a process Teo notes is normally quicker when Christmas isn't involved.

Getting the business up and running “wasn’t really difficult”, she says. But the biggest challenge was “doing everything yourself in another language.”

“You need to fill out the correct documents, sometimes with difficult vocabulary. As well as having a business plan, you can call your local trade office directly, since they are friendly, helpful and can dispel any myths you may have heard from friends regarding starting a business in Germany.

“Knowing German for business is very important. Of course you can get help, but knowing German makes things easier and quicker. You can just pick up the phone and call rather than doing things by post.”

Teo also recommends getting informed about starting a business in Germany by speaking to those who have already done it, such as vi meet-ups in your local area.

Teo's Steamed Tofu. Photo: Nyonya Cooking

Asian food in Germany

At the moment, Teo’s audience is mostly to be found in South Asia, as well as in English-speaking countries such as the USA, UK and Australia. But she hopes the development of her German website, established in March, will help to attract a larger audience in her adoptive homeland.

“The Germans are quite conservative when it comes to food. I think there is a saying that goes 'the farmer won’t eat what he doesn’t know'. I want to slowly teach Germans about more authentic Asian food.”

Teo is currently figuring out how best to do this.

“Asian food has a bad reputation in Germany for containing monosodium glutamate (MSG) and oil. I want to show Asian food is different and healthy, that you can do it yourself – and that it is fresh, fast and easy.”

But is it possible to get the correct ingredients for Southeast Asian cooking in Germany?  

“Of course!” Teo enthuses. Though her family sends her the occasional product from Malaysia, Teo says she gets the vast majority of her ingredients in Germany.

“In bigger cities, like Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf, you can go to Asian supermarkets, including getting fresh Asian vegetables.”

Note: This article has been updated to clarify one of  Grace Teo's statements.


Only in Germany: McDonald’s begins offering ‘Spargel Burger’

Amid Germany's famous 'Asparagus Season', the fast food chain has begun offering an unusual twist on typical ingredients.

Only in Germany: McDonald's begins offering 'Spargel Burger'
A basket of Spargel in Kutzleben, Thuringia marked the start of this year's season on April 14th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Martin Schutt

How do you know that you’re definitely in Germany? One sure fire way: when you check the menu of a McDonald’s in the springtime and see a ‘Spargel Burger’. 

Germans are so enamored by the ‘white gold’ –  special light-coloured asparagus which is much thicker than its North American green counterpart – that it’s now a featured fast food at McDonald’s Germany, and with classic Hollandaise sauce and bacon to boot. 

On Thursday, the popular American fast-food chain restaurant – which counts nearly 1,500 outlets in Germany – published a photo of the “Big Spargel Hollandaise” saying that it would be available at select restaurants. They assured customers: “Yes, it’s really there.”

But its release was met with mixed reactions. “We absolutely have to go to McDonald’s sometime,” wrote one. Yet another called the unconventional creation “perverse.”

Another commenter showed skepticism: “Hollandaise sauce on a burger? Does that even taste good?”

Others weighed in on social media to point out that the product is a sign of Germany’s fascination with the vegetable. 

The burger is the latest to join the asparagus craze, with a phallic-shaped Spargel monument in Torgau, Saxony capturing the public attention – or bewilderment – earlier in the week.

An annual tradition

Every year, Germany typically celebrates ‘Spargelzeit’ (asparagus season) from the middle of April until June 24th, which many dub ‘Spargelsilvester’ (Asparagus-New Year’s Eve). 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Spargelzeit

The beloved vegetable, harvested heavily around the country, usually has its own special menu devoted to it at restaurants, and is sold in supermarkets – or road-side stands – next to jars of the classic Hollandaise sauce. 

The top states which grow the crop are Lower Saxony, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, but Beeliz, Brandenburg is also synonymous with Spargel in Germany. 

In normal years the tiny town hosts a sprawling festival to mark the start of the season, anointing a Spargel king and queen.

READ ALSO: Here’s why Germans go so completely crazy for asparagus