A daring 45-year-old engineer decided to ditch his stable job and begin selling authentic German sausages, bread and beer on the streets of HCM City. He talks with Bo Xuan Hiep about taking risks and his love for German food.
Klaus Rutt of Germany began his business with a few plastic chairs and a small truck, selling grilled sausage on Phan Xich Long Street in Phu Nhuan District. After a major robbery and a few other setbacks, he and his Vietnamese-German wife are experiencing success and plan to open an indoors restaurant as well.
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us about your life before you came to Viet Nam?
My story might sound a bit strange as my family has a tradition of producing sausages for 130 years. I learned how to make sausages from my father when I was seven years old. However, in the beginning, I didn't want to follow the tradition without a clear reason. I'm an environmental engineer and I used to work for a waste treatment company in Germany.
Then I got married to my current Vietnamese wife, who was working as a circus performer in Germany. At that time, she travelled around the world for performances. We have three children now. I continued my own job and she managed our four restaurants that we opened in Germany.
Inner Sanctum: Why did you decide to come to Viet Nam to sell sausages on the street?
Yeah, it sounds weird. My wife and I travelled between Viet Nam and Germany several times before deciding to settle down.
It was not until 2011, when we took our three children to Viet Nam for a vacation, did our life change. They wanted to eat sausages in Viet Nam, but we found that the sausages here tasted completely different.
A sudden thought came to my mind that we could bring authentic German sausages to Viet Nam. The desire to do so never stopped, and I made a shocking decision to quit my job of 26 years and come to Viet Nam to make and sell sausages on the street.
At that time, my parents totally disagreed with my "crazy" decision and advised me to consider carefully before going ahead.
I was determined and patient in persuading them. Finally, they supported my decision.
Inner Sanctum: Did you face any difficulties when you set up shop here?
Yes, of course. We faced many challenges at first. We started with a stall that sold grilled sausages on Huynh Van Banh Street in Phu Nhuan District. We invited people to try our sausages for free for two months.
Then the sausages became more and more popular, and our business ran smoothly until our homes were robbed of everything in one night. We lost almost everything and we had to begin from zero.
My wife was so disappointed and impatient that she went back to Germany. But I never gave up. I started everything again.
Seeing my effort, my wife agreed to come back here to support me, but with the condition that if after three years we were not successful, we would return to Germany. We had already sold one of our restaurants in Germany to help with our business here.
Inner Sanctum: How do you make German sausage?
The sausage is made according to German standards, and we can assure you it is authentic because all materials and spices are imported from Germany.
In addition to what I learned from my father, I try to make it more delicious and suitable for the tastes of the Vietnamese and people of other nationalities living in HCM City.
The sausage is German-style, but the level of salt is reduced to suit local tastes. The weather in Germany is cold, so the sausage needs to be a little more salty than it should be here where the weather is hot.
As for how we make sausage, customers can call to register to visit my place to see the full procedure. They will be able to observe and judge the sanitation of the entire procedure. We have already had 100 customers to register.
Inner Sanctum: What do you do every day at your stall?
In the beginning when there were few customers, I played multiple roles: making and grilling sausage, doing research to diversify the products to suit different tastes, and selling and acting as cashier.
Although my Vietnamese is not good, I had no difficulty communicating as Vietnamese customers could understand our sign printed in Vietnamese language "VND35,000 per sausage". I'm trying to improve my Vietnamese as well as my English because my customers are not only Vietnamese but also Italian, American, Austrian, Danish, French and Russian, among others. A lot of my customers are also from Germany.
The number of customers is increasing, so we have hired more cashiers and delivery people. Making sausage is great fun so I am the one who makes and grills them. The joy is doubled when I see my customers satisfied.
There are currently five kinds of sausages that we offer. I'm also doing research so that I can make other kinds to suit the taste of many customers.
Inner Sanctum: Why did you choose to sell sausages on the pavement instead of in a restaurant? Do you have any expansion plans?
This is an interesting point about the real style of German sausages. In Germany, only fresh sausages are sold at supermarkets or food shops, while grilled and steamed sausages are sold at pavements on the streets, which is served with beer. That is the German style.
I'd like to promote German sausage by not only bringing it to Viet Nam but also introducing German cuisine to the country.
I have just rented a house to open a restaurant that serves sausage and other German dishes. The restaurant is expected to open next month.
I wanted to open the restaurant to create more space for children to play while they come to enjoy German dishes. Selling on the pavement has a number of challenges. For example, we don't have a toilet for customers and we can't open on rainy days due to safety and hygiene reasons.
But we still sell grilled sausage on the pavement because we want to promote the German culture to the Vietnamese people.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think of Vietnamese customers in general?
I have not given up after many obstacles because we still find that Viet Nam is a wonderful place to do business. In addition, I find Vietnamese people truly friendly. That's for sure.
As for Vietnamese customers in particular, I find them easy to cope with. They show strong interest in my sausage. Some of them told my wife that although the price was rather high, it was worth it. They are willing to pay for what they think is delicious and safe.
If, after three years, the business is not as good as we expect, we will go back to Germany. I would miss Viet Nam a lot.
One thing is I'd prefer to live and work in developing countries like Viet Nam simply because it is naturally beautiful, and more importantly, I can see the rapid changes occurring in the country day by day. — VNS