Actually, Georg Öfferl had an uneasy feeling as he was walking through his family’s bakery one day, reflecting on it and assessing its condition. “Let it go, boy, don’t take over the business. The numbers speak for themselves.” That is what his mother and grandmother had said, trying to dissuade him from his project. But he had long since made his decision, despite limited funds. He wanted to save the business, then in its third generation, from imminent closure. He was well aware of the hard work that would require. After all, as a child he had slipped into the bakery at the crack of dawn to help his parents knead the dough. He saw the drudgery, grew up with it, had to roll up his sleeves himself on days when an assistant baker failed to show up. With all that, he initially decided not to pursue baking as a way of earning his daily bread. Instead, after finishing high school and starting his university studies, he began dreaming of climbing the career ladder in the automobile industry. The second-in-command position was within reach but then the news arrived that the other guy had gotten the job.
“Every time we sell a loaf of bread, we support sustainable agriculture a little bit more, that is our aspiration. And we will stick with that approach.”
“What do you think, Lukas? You want to team up with me and make something good out of this business?” It did not take Lukas long to decide. He quit his job as a technical draftsman and three days later was standing in the bakery ready to work.
Full Steam Ahead
So, an idea that had long lain dormant in Georg’s mind began to reawaken. As an amateur athlete who put stock in eating a balanced diet, he had already created his own recipe for healthy spelt bread. The infrastructure was all in place, anyway. And when his cousin Lukas Uhl helped out one evening in the bakery, Georg suddenly proposed his idea: “What do you think, Lukas? You want to team up with me and make something good out of this business?” It did not take Lukas long to decide. He quit his job as a technical draftsman on a Wednesday evening and three days later was standing in the bakery ready to work. Both of them gradually completed their training as master bakers at the Master School for Millers, Bakers and Pastry Chefs in Wels, Austria. Guided by their ingenious teacher Erwin Heftberger, both of them learned their craft from scratch, handled sourdough and studied various types of grain carefully. Eager for knowledge, they also asked all kinds of questions, which ultimately led to answers and to a new approach for their own bakery. The path ahead was clear to both of them: No to the standard mixes and pre-mixed ingredients that were already too expensive to begin with. Yes to regional products they would make with their own recipes. Not a stone was left standing in the Öfferl steam bakery, long-time employees had to be persuaded, new local suppliers had to be found. And finally, everything came together. Just one venerable old part of the equation was allowed to remain unchanged: the steam baking oven that their grandfather had already used when the bakery opened in 1968. With its help, crispy, full-bodied baked goods are still being baked. With their crispy crusts, fluffy crumbs and sonorous names like Madame Crousto, Robert de Vino or Meister Wenzl, these goods are not just winning over the inhabitants of Gaubitsch but have also found their way to the best addresses in Vienna. Everything made by hand, of course. Every roll, every loaf of bread is individual. Given the growing demand, a new branch is opening soon in the First District of Vienna.
Organic Is Our Standard – Demeter Is Our Goal
Georg and Lukas purchase the raw ingredients for their bread not from wholesalers but exclusively from local producers within a radius of 30 kilometers: “The Weinviertel is the breadbasket of Europe for us.” That has to do with the Pannonian climate, on the one hand and with the healthy soil on the other. And with the farmers, who know how to deal with this mix. Farmers like Martin Allram. He is a major grain supplier specializing in original types of organic grain. These types of grain are usually processed in wholegrain form and have more substance than sifted flour. A grain is not a grain, as the two master bakers know: “A Waldstaude rye sourdough has a more intense flavor than a regular rye sourdough. Emmer is nuttier, Einkorn, for its part, is more reminiscent of spelt.” Despite all these differences, one thing is clear: Organic goods are fundamental to Georg and Lukas’s business, “The Demeter Quality Seal is the goal.” Both agree: “Our honesty stands behind the products we make, that is enormously important to us.” Finally, the ultimate test: how the bread tastes. The ingredients that go into it must be grown in a healthy way; their quality must always be assured. “Every time we sell a loaf of bread, we support sustainable agriculture a little bit more, that is our aspiration. And we will stick to that approach.”