From street food entrepreneur to travelling theatre productions to Berlin founder, Gordon Wojcickowski has learned how to combine unique cuisine with artistic endeavour. We caught up with him over lunch in our to learn of his story and experiences after almost two decades of business in Berlin.
Hey, Gordon. When did you move from Toronto to Berlin?
My father was born in Canada but from Ukranian and Polish descent, and my mother was a typical WASP.
Great, and when was Der Imbiss founded?
Was it just yourself or were there other founders involved?
It was founded together with Agentur 103 and at that time they had the very famous club, the 103 Club, which was a founding member of the Berlin electronic music scene. They opened up next door, and this was available, so we opened it up as Der Imbiss in 2002.
What inspired you to found Der Imbiss?
Well, when I first came here I thought, “Wow, the food is really bad here in Berlin.” So I saw a niche market for good food. So I’ve been subsequently engaged in my process of keeping good food away from bad people. For example, people who are very demanding and come in and leave a 0,20€ tip get a little bit of a comment, which is really well-received sometimes.
Tell us a bit about your competition and why you think you are better.
Well, for one, we offer the vegetarian options – back then in the city there was very little vegetarian options, that’s one niche market. The fusion cuisine – the style is Indo-mexi-cal-ital: Indian, Mexican – the usual fusion is Mexi-cal or Cal-ital, California health food, Italian nice food, so this fusion concept. So I incorporated them all.
What advice would you have for entrepreneurs getting started in Berlin?
I’d make sure you have a concept, which is not döner kebab or pizzaria. Or if you open a pizzaria I suggest that you visit Italy and taste a good pizza, that would be a good. start, or have something which has a little bit of individuation, that would be a good start. I think there’s enough burger joints too, I think they’re pretty topped up.
What is your favorite spot in the neighborhood?
I think the best place around here would be the FIT Tankstelle over on Schwedter Straße. It’s an old gas station, and in the back they have a yurt and a fire truck with a sauna in the back. That’s a really brilliant place, and they have regular sauna nights and regular alternative events.
Where do you see Berlin five years from now?
Well, it looks like the landlord vultures are really taking hold to suck the people dry. Alternative living is really in waning, so that’s regrettable. But that seems to be the trend everywhere. I was just in Toronto and I couldn’t believe the amount of buildings that went up. It was like Bladerunner! Just the land by the railroad was just all buildings. It was incredible. I was stunned. At this point I realized that to move back to Canada would be almost impossible. The rent for a small, one room apartment, my friend pays $1750 a month in an undesirable neighborhood. It’s stunning. And I had guests in Der Imbiss last night from Vancouver, and it’s almost as bad.
Is there a single group, individual, or project that has been particularly influential to you during your time as an entrepreneur in Berlin?
The Schmaltzwald, it’s a joke on Schwartzwald, Black Forest, it’s the Schmaltz forest. That was just up the street from 2000 to 2005. And that made quite a deep impression on me. It was a gallery and an artistic collective – I was part of it.
Can you name one particular moment that has been pivotal during your time in business here?
I guess it was in 2006 we had a New York Times article and we had one page with my photograph in it in Lonely Planet in every language in Europe, including Hebrew. So I saw a definite change in business after that. And because of that all the film crews from all over the world came here. Lonely Planet were friends with the woman who did the article for the New York Times. So that really was pivotal. “Street Food with Ambition” was the name of the article. I’m the original street food person in Toronto, you can see a picture of me on our Facebook site on the street in the early 80’s cooking a poori bread in my chapati cart there. So I’ve been doing this for some time.
Has Berlin’s informal nature, unique history and, urban fabric been a positive aspect of your time in the city?
Oh yes. Definitely. It was really unique in the world in its time in the late 90’s when I moved here and set up business. We’re getting started at Nollendorfstraße 10, we have a pure tiki environment, and it’s just really developing. We have a booking on for Radical Media in London; they’re doing a documentary on a very famous Berlinerin, Romy Haag and they’re having their wrap party there.
Finally, coffee, tea, or Club Mate?
Absolutely double espresso, I will definitely plug Passenger. It’s a New Zealand group that brings Arabica from all over the world, a cherry-picked dark roast blend, and you don’t miss the robusto!
Thanks to Gordon for contributing to our neighborhood interview series.
Be sure to drop by Der Imbiss in Prenzlauer Berg & Schöneberg , Berlin. They also provide great event catering.
Interview: Andrew Haw
Photography: Nora Brown