Confidence and Cheesecake: The Story of Café Barcomi
Here’s an entrepreneur who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
It’s the story of Berlin, New York style cheesecake, and a woman who wouldn’t let naysayers sway her confidence. Join me for the World Premiere of this new 90-second Why Didn’t I Think of That?® feature, Café Barcomi.
When Seattle native Cynthia Barcomi moved to Berlin in the 80’s, she could barely speak a word of German. Her goal was to be a professional dancer. And she was, for eight years. She joined a dance company, learned to speak German, and had two children. And after all that, she decided it was time for a change.
She wanted to open a cafe, to roast coffee, sell her baked goods, and introduce the Germans to New York style cheesecake. Germans loved coffee and cake, after all, so the idea was seemed foolproof in her mind.
But Barcomi soon found she was somewhat alone in her thinking. She got her papers in order, wrote up a proposed budget, and went looking for a loan.
“I went to about 12 banks and was rejected by them all,” Barcomi told Businessweek in 2009. “I represented a triple whammy: I was a foreigner, a woman, and I wanted to start a food business.”
Perhaps naively, I refused to give up. The kind of American-style entrepreneurial spirit that I had grown up with doesn’t really exist here. Repeatedly, I was given the prevailing wisdom in Germany: If my idea were a good one, it would already exist—and since it doesn’t, then we don’t need it. I was told there are no new good ideas. I said: ‘I’m sorry, I beg to differ. With that attitude we’d all be riding around in horse carriages because nobody would have invented the car.’
Of course, it’s hard to maintain resolve in the face of abject rejection. But Barcomi’s ability to do just that is what has the German media calling her “Berlin’s Coffee Queen” and “Miss American Pie.”
She took her cookies to the bank meetings. She only spoke in German. She barred her husband from attending the meetings with her. “I was a woman, and I was going to convince them I could do it.”
Within two months, she got her loan. It was for $100,000. That plus her $15,000 in savings, and Café Barcomi was ready for business. She used her cakes and coffee to lure in the locals. Her New York cheesecake and bagels were seen as exotic American delicacies.
And it was only a matter of years–okay, a little over a decade–before that $115,000 turned into more than $2 million in revenue. It wasn’t an easy road to get there. But she did.
“In America I was taught you can be anything. In Germany the attitude is that the government will take care of you or you learn a trade and that’s what you do. Most people here see starting their own business as an alternative to being unemployed. For me it was definitely advantageous to have stuck with it and figured out how to run a business here, but I don’t think I could have done it had I not been fluent in the language and lived here for many years first.”
Today, Café Barcomi has two locations in Berlin, one with a coffee roastery, and one with a deli.