At Restlos Glücklich (meaning “Completely Happy”), food surplus becomes a healthy and exciting menu, served up with a side of raising awareness. The volunteer-run initiative in Berlin is aimed at establishing a non-profit restaurant which creates a menu around so-called food “waste” donated by supermarkets, farmers and other producers. Food which has not spoiled is often destined for the waste bin merely due to lack of storage, damage to packaging, or because it’s naturally misshapen and thus deemed unfit for the shelf.
Leoni Beckmann, a co-founder of Restlos Glücklich who works a full-time job alongside the time she volunteers on Restlos Glücklich, explained how the idea came about. “In Germany there’s around 13 million tonnes of food waste every year,” she says. “We thought, that’s way too much—what can we do to prevent this? We need to find a delicious way to show people what they’re actually throwing out. That’s how we came up with Restlos Glücklich: a restaurant where we cook with food surplus, which we get from our partners, for whom food waste is also a big issue. Our partners are very engaged, and it’s really important to them not to throw away food, that’s why they give it to us.”
Restlos Glücklich, which also coordinates cooking classes and workshops, works with a wide range of food partners, like German organic supermarket Denn’s, local farmers, and a winery which donates bottles with mistakes on the labels. After successfully raising €26,845 with their crowd funding campaign in September this year, the team is currently focused on opening the restaurant—securing a location, wading through the epic torrent of bureaucracy it takes to open such an operation in Berlin, and waiting for that check to arrive. But the campaign brought more than financial support, it brought Restlos Glücklich to the attention of larger social organizations too, from catering for the WWF and Oxfam, to attending meetings with German Minister for Agriculture.
“Our goal was €50,000 and we reached €27,000, which we were really happy with because we didn’t even think it would get that far,” says Beckmann. We also received a lot of press attention—the crowd funding campaign is more than just the money, you also make a lot of connections, so for us it was a big success. We are focused on opening the restaurant, but there are often periods where we have to wait for some bureaucratic decision to be made. So in the meantime we work on catering: We haven’t done any advertising but we get so many requests to cater events, for example a WWF conference, and an Oxfam event about global education.
“I’m definitely overwhelmed by the attention our project gets,” Beckmann continues. “Five weeks ago I was at a meeting with the German minister for Agriculture and I was wondering why they invited us there. It seems that our restaurant concept is really attractive. I’m surprised by all the emails we get from people saying ‘I think this is great concept, I want to help’.”
So far so good, but not everything has gone quite as expected either, and there are challenges to overcome while still making progress. Beckmann explains some of the delays in rolling out this unique concept in a country where even she herself, as a German, is taken aback at the level of paperwork. “Up until August I thought we might open the restaurant in October. I’m surprised by German bureaucracy, which makes it difficult to open anything,” she says. “We are a non-profit and initially tried to register as a charity but the Finanzamt (tax authority) said no. So that was annoying, and now we’re trying to work our way around it. It was quite funny because they wrote us a letter—“Restaurants cannot be registered as a charity. Also we noticed you did a crowd funding campaign.” We were like, What! You’re stalking us! We were surprised by how modern they are, that they even use the internet.”
“We have a resource and organization problem,” Beckmann continues. “There are a lot of people who want to help but there are just resources missing: a good car, a kitchen, storage space. We are tackling one problem at a time. It takes a while because we all work outside of Restlos Glücklich. At this point I would say we will definitely open next year, but no set date yet.”
The $64,000 question: Do you ever throw away food? “We have at some stage—of course we try not to. We freeze a lot. In general when we have a catering, we leave the remainders for people to take, or hand out doggy bags.”
And the other $64,000 question: Do you ever have to buy food? “We do have to buy food sometimes, for example today we needed dairy products. We’re not ready to accept dairy products, it’s not in place yet. Our partners want us to take more food, more often, but we don’t even have a kitchen. We can’t take two hundred litres of milk because we don’t have the capacity for it. So that is a problem. In general, we don’t buy a lot of food—we are surprised by how little food we have to buy.”
Currently the chef at Restlos Glücklich is also an unpaid volunteer, but this will change once the restaurant is open, the chef role will be paid. Hiring the right person for the job means a chef who can work with volunteers who may not have any culinary training, as well as overcoming quick turnarounds for planning a menu. An update on ingredients might only come in a couple of days before a catering—so how do they make it work?
“For today’s catering (Sunday) we knew on Friday what was coming in,” says Beckmann. “So on Friday we sent our chef a list and picture of the food. This is what we got, this is the amount, this is how it looks. Then he decides what to make, and tells us what extras he needs. It’s important that we have an easygoing and social chef who is okay with working with people who…have no idea what they’re doing. Our volunteers get a hygiene card so that they’re eligible to work, but..we have tried out a few chefs and some of them got angry. This doesn’t work—we have new volunteers all the time, though we try to emphasise regularity. If you want to work with us you have to stay at least six months, and do minimum three shifts a month. In general there are just so many new people, who are still learning.”
“For us it’s important that Restlos Glücklich will be a restaurant where we all feel good. I would like to have a restaurant where I’m happy to spend my Sunday evening working or just having a glass of wine.”
Elizabeth Rushe is a freelance writer and photographer from Ireland, living in Berlin. She bakes a mean Irish soda bread. What’s that you’re eating? Answers to @elizafoxxx.