„The filter of optimistic realism”

Stefanie Rothenhöfer is the organiser of the Food Entrepreneurs Club - a community that provides practical assistance to start-ups and keeps “visions grounded”

TEXT: Valentin Karl Waibel PHOTOGRAPHY: Alejandra Loreto


Sunglasses, rust-red bike, a smile on her face. “Hi, I’m Steffi”, she says and takes a seat in the beach chair next to me. We’re meeting in a small café in the north of Neukölln. No random choice, it’s not even been in business for 12 months yet. So it’s a genuine food start-up, right? Stefanie is the founder of the Food Entrepreneurs Club, FEC for short, and she should know.

Do the right thing and make profit

The objective of her network is to help young restaurateurs turn their dreams of running their own restaurants into reality. Using her “Do the right thing and make profit” strapline, she organises workshops and coaching sessions, helps people to cut their way through the “legal jungle”, provides tips about social media presence and leadership, puts start-ups in contact with experts and connects with producers from the surrounding regions. All for the sake of sustainability, she says. “But the point is not only that everybody should start buying organic. What’s more important is sustainable success.”

Stefanie herself knows what challenges are involved and can therefore work with start-ups on an equal footing. When Heidelberg-born Stefanie came to Berlin five years ago, she opened her first food business, made street food catering-compatible and got to know other start-up entrepreneurs at events like “Fashion Week” and the “Berlinale”, who all felt themselves confronted by the same problems

Although she had done an integrated degree in hotel and restaurant management, she didn’t have any answers to many of the issues that arose. “What should I do now about a tax advisor? Which approvals do I need? What and how often should I post on Instagram? We could not afford a consultant to advise on these issues. Especially as the consultants didn’t even know what this new food movement was all about. That’s why the FEC was established.”

She set up the network three years ago and now knows exactly what matters. In establishing her community she has laid foundations that keep people grounded as they strive to turn their visions into reality and help them find the right direction. And to “filter” ideas with an “optimistic dose of realism”, to make sure the numbers stack up in the end.

“An initial conversation quickly clarifies whether the entrepreneur is headed in the direction of international growth or down the road of a small connoisseur’s café. We then share our knowledge in the workshops and coaching sessions. But I too only have a basic knowledge, I don’t know all the ropes. But that’s exactly what the FEC stands for: it’s not about me or the start-up entrepreneurs, it’s about the community. If I don’t know the answers to certain questions, I know somebody who can help.”