‘I wanted to offer Danes a taste of Aussie food’

In the latest instalment of My Danish Career, The Local sat down with Australian expat Matt Niall to talk to him about his new cafe/restaurant Souls.

'I wanted to offer Danes a taste of Aussie food'
One year ago Australian Matt Niall had the idea that he wanted to open a plant-based cafe in Copenhagen where people could make a clear choice about the food they eat and where it comes from.
Niall has lived in Copenhagen for 12 years. From the age of seven, he caught the travel bug after visiting the UK with his grandparents, and as he grew up knew that he wanted to have a life outside of Australia. From his late teens he travelled around Europe, starting in Italy and finally settling in Denmark, where he earned a business degree at Copenhagen Business School. He then started a career in the food industry with Sticks and Sushi, until the idea for his new venture took hold.
“I have a real passion for service and I wanted to offer people a taste of Aussie food – healthy, quick and convenient but with an emphasis on making a clear choice about where that food has come from,” Niall said. 
The Aussie and his business partner opened their cafe Souls on April 1st, a date that many might shy away from. But there were certainly no jokes that day as the queue snaked out the door and social media brimmed with people raving about the food and the atmosphere. 

“Originally it was planned to be a take-away place but we were lucky enough to have the chance to take on a big corner premises on Melchoirs Plads in Østerbro. The space was perfect for what we wanted and the square outside offers so many opportunities for engaging with the local community with events and just simply bringing life to the area,” he said. 
Working with an experienced chef, Niall devised a menu that is mainly plant-based but not totally vegan. Meat eaters can enjoy some free range chicken and salmon on the menu but the emphasis is certainly on plant-based food and showcasing how delicious and diverse this can be.
The cafe had done a soft open about a week before its official launch as the team worked on the menu and sought feedback from their first customers. Niall said it is important that the place offers what people want and the only way to find that out is to ask them.
Starting a business in a country that isn’t your own doesn’t come without challenges. The biggest one Niall faced was setting up a business without a broad network of friends and family to rely on.
“When something unexpected happened I sometimes struggled to find the right person to help out – my network here is less diverse or at least smaller than it would be back in Australia. But this has pushed me into expanding my network and I have met a number of people who have been particularly generous with their time and advice, which has been amazing.”

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‘We wanted to make chocolate to reflect Denmark’s seasons’

Stuart Eve moved to Denmark with his family after his wife, an archaeologist, was offered a job at Aarhus University. Nearly four years later, he is the co-founder of a fair trade chocolate business in the Scandinavian city.

'We wanted to make chocolate to reflect Denmark's seasons'
A chance meeting at their children's daycare resulted in the Ørbæk and Eve families starting their Danish business. Photo: Stuart Eve

Eve still works full time at his day job, also in archaeology. But the sweet-toothed entrepreneur told The Local that Denmark provided him with inspiration to try something out of his comfort zone – starting his own business in a foreign country.

After meeting business partner Anders Ørbæk at the daycare centre attended by their children, the two began the project, initially producing the chocolate out of their own kitchens.

“That has now moved to the renting of a professional space, so that we can scale up production and also get all the relevant food hygiene certificates and so on,” Eve said.

The archaeologist said having Danish partners had been beneficial in the course of setting up a business in the Scandinavian country, even though the process itself was straightforward.

“Actually starting the business was a matter of filling in a few forms online and showing we had 100 kroner [13 euros] in the bank. However, I think without our Danish partners, it would have been quite hard – mainly because of the technical Danish required. My Danish is pretty awful – and there are a lot of financial terms that are difficult to translate,” Eve said.

READ ALSO: Danish: Is it really so hard to learn?

“So I think for us it was essential to have Danish partners. Also, the food hygiene rules and health and safety, while similar to the UK, are quite onerous – and again very technical.

“I run my own archaeology business in the UK, so that has set me in great stead for the financial and business side,” he added.

The startup currently sources some of its supplies from Eve’s native UK – one aspect that may be complicated by Brexit, he said.

“My secret dream is that the chocolate business will enable us to beat Brexit and stay in Denmark for a lot longer — but we'll have to see how it pans out,” he said.


Packaged up and ready to go #somerferie #chokolade #beantobar #chocolate

A post shared by Ørbæk & Eve (@oerbaekandeve) on Jul 3, 2017 at 2:40pm PDT

It was not just the administrative side that Eve had to learn on the hoof for his Danish-based business, though – the process of producing the chocolate itself is also new.

“I was eating some Ritter Sport one evening and wondered to myself how chocolate was made, thinking it must be some incredibly complicated industrial process. So I checked out a few YouTube videos and it turns out you can make chocolate in a coffee grinder – it tastes awful because it is so crunchy, but it shows the process. From there it was a matter of buying a bigger grinder and starting to experiment. We have so much to learn still, but people seem to like what we are producing so far,” he said.

The chocolate produced by the startup – which is both fairtrade and organic – is heavily influenced by Denmark’s nature and seasonal variations, including a quarterly subscription service which can be signed up for via a crowdfunding campaign.

“We have been trying to find a way to really represent the beauty and abundance of the Danish countryside and combine it with something that Danes really love – chocolate,” he said.

“Strawberries from Samsø for summer, hazelnuts foraged from the woods for autumn, etc. Between us we have six kids so the family always come in and help during the production days,” he added.

A longer term aim is to consolidate the new company – named Ørbæk & Eve after its co-founders – as a well-known ‘bean to bar’ company in Aarhus.

“Our main reasons for doing this are two-fold. First, we eat a lot of chocolate and have become increasingly concerned by the human and environmental costs of industrialised chocolate production – there are new reports about destruction of rainforest for cocoa plantations and slave labour in West Africa, for example. In order to not be complicit with this, I wanted to figure out how it was made – and to do it myself.

“Second, we have really noticed the differences in the seasons since we moved to Denmark, so we wanted to make chocolate that reflected and celebrated the different qualities of the changing seasons,” he said.

Eve, Ørbæk and their partners are currently spending evenings and weekends on the chocolate production runs.

“As things pick up, I suspect I will move to one dedicated day a week, but we have four of us working on it, so we can usually juggle the time,” he said.

READ MORE: The Local's 'My Danish Career' series