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The importance of design and quality - Entrepreneur András Gerzsenyi as our monthly guest

Can you tell me a bit of your background, where were you raised? 

I was raised next to Budapest in Budaörs, it's a small village connected to Budapest but basically it’s the same city. I went to high school in the city center of Budapest and since my teenage years I have had some contact with the city center. I like the busy heart of the city.  

What did you study? 

I studied architecture, and it was during the first year of my studies that I met my wife Mariann, who also studied architecture. In our businesses, running cafes and bakeries, me and Mariann work together. We have a partnership and we do everything in cooperation.  

We studied a year in Spain as well, then we finished our studies in 2007 and the same year we started our first business: a design shop called Insitu. 

Did you ever work as an architect or did you always focus on the businesses? 

Yes, I did at the same time as we had the business. Nowadays, we don’t have much time for that. My wife designs houses, mainly for families outside of the city, but I just design our shops. We just opened a new location for our bakery Nor/ma in the beginning of the Summer and it was about 9 months of work to design everything. I don’t only design the space you see when you walk in but also the technical details and it’s a complex design. All in all, you have to design a space that can work as a bakery, a coffee shop and as a kitchen and it all has to have nice interior design for the guests. 

Nor/ma has Nordic and Hungarian influences. Where did the idea come from to start this type of bakery and coffee shop, where these two worlds meet? 

We have traveled a lot in Northern Europe and we like the Nordic style. We already had two Fekete coffee shops when we decided to open Nor/ma in 2019 together with two friends who are also a couple.

When we were in Copenhagen, we saw a lot of bakeries that offered something different from the other places we had seen. I liked the baked goods they offered, the usage of cardamom, cinnamon and all the flavours. Also the bread, the dark rye bread and the sourdough. We were very interested in learning how to make these baked goods. We got a chance to learn here in Hungary, because there was a young woman who was studying in Denmark and she had a lot of experience of the Danish bakeries and she could teach us and give us recipes. That is how we ended up opening Nor/ma, half nordic and half magyar, from which comes the name Nor/ma. 

Do you have entrepreneurs in your family? Or where did this interest in having businesses come from? 

Yes, my mother used to have a second-hand store in the 90’s where our central Fekete coffee shop is now. When she retired from her business, we thought why not try a coffee shop in this same location, maybe it will work. I think it comes from my parents wanting to try something else than just architecture.

You seem very relaxed about starting a business, was it even a bit scary to start as an entrepreneur? 

In the beginning it was. We also had little children at the time, when we opened our first shop our first son was born and in the start every time we opened something new at the same time a new child was born. 

How many children do you have? 

We have three sons and one daughter. 

It wasn't easy at first, we had to learn how to be entrepreneurs, we hadn’t studied business. For the first 2-3 years it was really hard and there was a time we had to stop and review everything from scratch. In 2012, we opened our first Fekete coffee shop after opening the design shop and by then we already had the skills to build a new place. But still today, it is very hard. You have to be reachable all the time. You have to be able to help in every situation. When I come into my shops, the first thing I see are problems; it’s not clean enough, some things are not working, the music is not the best, I should reorganise something. That is what the first thing I did when I walked in today, I looked around and told the employer's 5 things that should be done now. So if you want to enjoy a place you have to go to a place you don’t own because you will always see the problems or you always want to help. 

But I think we have a very nice team, we like working together and solving problems together. So nowadays I can finally say that I enjoy being an entrepreneur. It is not the easiest way to live your life, but I think I like the work about it, I like problems, I like to solve them and I like the people who work here.

The pandemic must have been challenging, how has this time been for you?

As we had a bakery, we were feeling very lucky because we could stay open during the whole pandemic. We sold our bread at the door, people couldn’t come in. We just put a table at the door and people were waiting on the streets. Unfortunately, we had to temporarily close our two Fekete coffee shops. Our third location in major in Budaörs could stay open and we sold our bakery goods there as well. We had to change our profile a bit, it was a take-away coffee shop with a bakery. When the second lockdown came, we had to rethink again so we started serving pizzas as well. 

It was a challenge to keep our employees. We had to rearrange people to work in different places and we sent them to the bakery to help. We didn’t know what to expect and we were afraid because we didn’t know if we could ever return to normal. We are still afraid because we don’t know what will happen, but we are hopeful that it won’t be exactly the same lockdown again.

You have just opened a new bigger Nor/ma bakery, do you have any other plans for the future?

We are working on a new place next to the small Nor/ma on Kecskeméti street. We don’t fully know the final concept yet but it will be some sort of restaurant. It will be about European cuisine, from the North to the South. This place will have an oven in the center and every dish will be somehow related to this oven. It is still very new and we just started working on it and it is very interesting. 

And the coffee will always be there somehow. All our places have the same coffee machine, the same coffee beans and the same milk. So I am sure this new place will also have a coffee machine.

Where did your interest in coffee and having a coffee shop come from? 

When we were students, we studied a lot in coffee shops and they always served bad coffee. So when I first tasted this new wave type of coffee, I could feel the origin of the coffee and all the fruity notes. At the time there were just two or three places that made coffee like this in Budapest. 

And I was always telling my wife I don’t want a restaurant, because it is a lot of hard work and all the people who have restaurants or work in restaurants are crazy. But when I saw that type of coffee shops I thought, this is something else. When we opened our first coffee shop we served just coffee. I just wanted to sell coffee, I didn’t want to sell croissants. So we just sold coffee to go and that was it. Then we saw there was a need to sit down and have some pastries and then we started going downhill and now I am planning to open a restaurant. 

What is your favourite pastry you sell at Nor/ma? 

I love the cardamom buns, but I think a croissant shows a lot of things about the bakery. If you try the croissant it’s like the marinara pizza, if you always order the marinara pizza at every pizza place you will know which pizza place is the best. I think the croissant shows the quality of a bakery. When I crave something sweet I choose a cardamom bun, but when I just need something to eat I will always try the croissant. 

 

Who? 

Name: András Gerzsenyi 

Education: Architect 

Profession: Owner of three coffee shops and two bakeries in the Budapest area. 

Lives in: Budapest  

Hobbies: Traveling with his family 

 

Rebecka Vilhonen

FinnAgora