Ze Spätzle Club

Hi, Alyssa here!

In February, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Nosel, CEO of the Ze Spätzle Club at Mercado Metropolitan Market and winner of their annual #FemaleFoodFounders competition. Spätzle (pronounced spetch-sla) is a German pasta made from eggs and flour and mixed with various meats, spices, and vegetables to create a savory experience. I asked Nancy a few questions regarding her journey as an entrepreneur in London’s food industry and learned a lot about her background and how she overcame multiple obstacles. Enjoy our interview!

IMG_8764

—————–

Alyssa: Hi, Nancy! It’s great to be here. Can you tell me a little about your background? What inspired you to start Ze Spätzle Club?

Nancy: I have a background in hospitality; I worked previously in Switzerland and London for 4-5 star hotels. I also worked for corporate businesses within the reception/administration capacity. For the last five years, I did personal assistant (PA) work in an office, which included project management.

Around two years ago, I went through a rough patch. I wasn’t really happy with my current job and needed to figure out what I wanted to do. While my job was good, it didn’t fulfill me. Through soul searching, I realized that I wanted to do something on my own.

I decided to do something German to honor my heritage, and I’ve always loved the London food scene. I enjoy regularly visiting markets and tasting food from different places. Although I wanted to focus on something German, I didn’t want to do sausages. (laughs) Don’t need many skills for that.

I had already been making spätzle for my friends and family, and I realized I could focus on creating variations of the dish. I conducted tasting sessions in my house to develop the perfect product, and participated in training at different markets last spring. I only did a few markets before entering Mercado’s competition. They invited me for the final and then chose me – it was all very fast.

IMG_8756

Alyssa: Wow! So because you won the competition, you received a stall here in Mercado Metropolitan?

Nancy: Yes, the prize was a spot here for 3 months as well as enrollment in a mentorship program where they provided guidance with cooking and marketing. The three months have ended, so I’m currently on my extension.

Alyssa: Ah, so are you paying more now?

Nancy: Yes, I was on special accommodations before, but now I’m paying for my slot. However, my stall is half the size of all the other stalls, so it isn’t full price. My contract extends until the end of March, and then I’ll see what happens.

Alyssa: Do you think you’re going to stay here?

Nancy: I’m not sure yet – of course, it depends on Mercato as well. In general, the business has been quite good and people have been going out and spending money. There’s greater interest in spätzle and I’ve been doing more social media marketing.

Alyssa: Social media is the way to do it, honestly! How many people are on your team?

Nancy: I have four part-time staff at the moment. In the beginning, I tried to do most of it myself, but had no time to take care of the administrative and marketing side. As a new business, it’s critical that we keep the stall running during opening hours, but also that I do more to push it forward and advertise our offerings. There’s always too little hours during the day.

Staff is truly a challenging factor – finding the right people who can work the hours we need. It’s been a bit up and down at some points.

Alyssa: Do you have any students on your staff?

Nancy: One is a student, another is a chef, and the other two just want to earn extra money. It’s difficult though – I have two new guys who just started a week ago, so I need to train them. Hopefully, I’ll have a bit more time soon (I’ve been saying this since we started). However, it’s nice to have staff around – a bit more fun than just doing it all by myself. When the staff aren’t here, I’ve been lucky to find a community within the employees from other stalls; we all get along very well. We’ll chat to each other and lend supplies if someone runs out of an ingredient. Between the traders, it’s a very good environment.

Alyssa: I like it! I love how people are also studying here with their laptops – I want to bring my friends back.

Nancy: Yes, a lot of people will do work here. I’ve got my laptop here as well.

IMG_8748

Alyssa: Must take advantage of every free moment! Now, how do you advertise? I know you currently use Facebook and Instagram.

Nancy: Yes, I haven’t done much else at the moment. However, I’ve printed some flyers I want to hand out at the local university and been approached by some marketing apps.

Alyssa: Like Deliveroo or coupon apps?

Nancy: The app is similar to a rewards/loyalty program. I haven’t had the time to sign up for any yet, but I’m definitely looking into it – although I wouldn’t spend a significant amount of money on it. I’d rather invest in something to increase my Instagram followers.

Alyssa: I actually have an app that you can use for that. It’s called Captivate, and I’ve used it for my marketing internships – I can show you how it works later. Now, what are your goals for the next 3-5 years?

Nancy: It would be amazing to open spätzle stores in other cities across England. I think a food truck would also be a way forward. Since I’m running this business alone, I can only draw from my own resources, and I don’t currently have a car. There’s a lot to consider regarding logistics – for example, before coming to Mercado, I was constantly thinking about how to gain access to a kitchen, how to transport my goods, where I could store them, etc. If everything was already in a van, it would be so much easier.

Alyssa: That’s true – all in one.

Nancy: Yes, so either I’d like to move forward with a food truck or open another permanent place similar to what we have at Mercado. We do everything here – which is challenging at times since it’s a very small space, but sometimes we can also use the community kitchen.

It would also be very cool to get spätzle in the supermarkets. You can currently buy ready-made pasta, and in Germany you can buy spätzle in the supermarkets, but it doesn’t exist here yet.

Alyssa: That’s a great idea! It’ll definitely increase exposure as well. Now, can you tell me about some of the greatest obstacles you encountered in starting Ze Spätzle Club and how you overcame them?

Nancy: Definitely employment – finding reliable people quickly and learning how to manage them. I think it’s still a learning curve, since I’ve never had to manage employees before. Just navigating how to talk to staff in a way that avoids bossiness but maintains authority – it’s a delicate balance.

Alyssa: Did your background as a project manager help you there?

Nancy: Yes, as well as my experience working in hotels and dealing with difficult customers. Customer service is the same across the board.

Alyssa: I’ve waitressed in a restaurant before, I completely understand.

Nancy: Exactly. I worked in the recruitment business as well and sometimes you have to be very thoughtful and deliberate in what you say while dealing with high-profile people, so I think that experience has helped me a lot in starting Ze Spätzle Club.

Another challenge is the simple exhaustion and burnout that comes from this non-stop routine. I’m here pretty much 70 hours every week. The staff help alleviate some of the burden, but I still like to be present. Even if I’m not cooking, I’m talking to customers or working on my laptop.

Alyssa: Work-life balance is not really there, huh?

Nancy: There’s not really much of a life at the moment. (laughs) My life is here. But it’s okay, everyone is really nice and it’s definitely a great environment.

IMG_8745

Alyssa: If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out and pursuing a similar type of business, what would that be?

Nancy: Definitely choose a food that isn’t too difficult to make. For example, products with ten different components will take a while to prep. Choosing something simple is a lot easier to mass produce. Also, get experience before you start all of this. As you know, I helped traders in other markets before starting my own stall, and they provided firsthand experience in the life and routine I wanted to pursue. Attending networking events will also help – just talk to people about what you want to do and get as much information as possible.

Similarly, networking is important because you don’t always know the best places to source your ingredients. The business isn’t very straightforward, so receiving advice from experienced traders has been very helpful. Most people are very keen to provide assistance.

In the same way, I’ve also focused on giving back. For example, a girl reached out to me after I won the competition and visited the stall a couple times. She mentioned how amazing she thought it would be to work at Ze Spätzle Club and I invited her to come behind the stand for a few hours. She started coming on a volunteering experience, just to see how it is.

Alyssa: Wow! How old is she?

Nancy: I would say around your age. She currently has a job, but wants to pursue sustainability and environmental initiatives, so the markets are very good for that.

Alyssa: I love this market. I’ve been to Camden and Borough Market, but this one is cozier – and has so much more seating!

Nancy: Yes, this is one of the biggest public seating areas in London. It gets very busy on Friday and Saturday nights. If you come at 8pm, you won’t find a spot.

Alyssa: Wow, makes sense that weekends are the busiest. What are your daily opening hours?

Nancy: Monday-Wednesday from 11:00am-11:00pm, Thursday-Saturday from 11:00am-midnight, and Sunday from 11:00am-10:00pm.

Alyssa: I can see why you’re here 70 hours a week!

Nancy: Yes, I’m here most of the time.

Alyssa: Do you have a family? Anything you need to take care at home?

Nancy: No, my family is all in Germany. I literally go home, shower, go to bed, and then get up and come back here. I have to time when I can do my laundry.

Alyssa: Wow, how long have you maintained this routine?

Nancy: I’ve been here since September, so six months. I feel quite comfortable with it now. In the beginning, I had to keep calculating how much to make every day, and it took 2-3 months to figure out the perfect process to maintain our shop. Although it’s a lot of time, I am very happy and content, and I don’t get as stressed as I used to. However, our contract is ending and April is approaching, so I might become very stressed then.

Alyssa: One step at a time! Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and share about Ze Spätzle Club with me!

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zespatzleclub/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zespatzleclub/

IMG_8739  IMG_8737

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s