We will master the challenges.
With his 6 months young, but already highly popular ice cream parlour, owner Helmut Samek relies on new ideas to overcome the Corona crisis.
What do you produce and what services do you offer?
Vanillas EisCafé – Patisserie is a small, exquisite ice cream parlour located in Palais Harrach in Freyung square in the heart of Vienna. We offer home-made ice cream and cakes, which we produce using organic, fair trade and sustainable ingredients whenever possible. All our packaging, serviettes, straws etc. are biodegradable and made from sustainable materials. A freshly-prepared breakfast menu, waffles, cold drinks and afternoon tea complement our range. We set our sights high, which is why we continue to learn every day from the best of our suppliers: Zotter chocolate, Rauwolf coffee, organic muesli from Verival, and many more suppliers who start the day with a firm belief in their mission. In just six months, we have been ranked first in the Coffee & Tea and Dessert in Vienna categories by our TripAdvisor travellers.
Did you have to close or restrict your operations and what impact did this have?
As with all other catering businesses, we had to close our shop That was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, just six days into the ice cream season. Our warehouse and cabinets were full with perishable foods, cakes, ice cream... Although we were able to give most of it away, some had to be thrown out. That really hurt. We took quick and comprehensive action, and reached an acceptable agreement with our landlord. It makes a difference whether you run a country inn on your own property or a shop located in a palace in the centre of Vienna. If we hadn’t reached a solution, the fixed costs would have quickly driven us to the wall. We also came to a mutually acceptable agreement with our staff. As a start-up enterprise, we have not yet built up sufficient reserves for us to shoulder everything in this situation. However, neither were we in a position to wait and see if we were eligible for aid and when we might receive it. The tourism sector will face difficult times ahead.
We generate more than 50% of our revenue from tourists and, as this will no longer be forthcoming this year, we have to consider how to make our offeringsmore attractive for the people of Vienna. Not only are we improving our digital expertise, developing an online store plus a customer loyalty, order and delivery app, we are also improving our communication on Instagramm and Facebook. We have invested in a new ice cream bicycle and are developing new products too. We have launched a crowdfunding project with Conda. Even though our shop is closed, we are working night and day to emerge from the situation stronger than ever. The Vienna Business Agency (Wiener Wirtschaftsagentur) quickly gave us unbureaucratic help with Vienna Online and Homeoffice. It helped us produce a high-quality online project that we could not have done otherwise. As we have no idea how long the pandemic will last, we also have to map out new opportunities that will make us more flexible, more resilient and fit for the future.
What positive aspects can you gain from the crisis? Have you learnt something from the lockdown?
As entrepreneurs, we are reminded that we are responsible for ourselves. We make our own decisions, develop our own ideas and concepts for the future and work on them ourselves. We cannot rely on state aid alone if we want to take entrepreneurship seriously. Many people have complained about high social security contributions and about how little help is available right now. Ultimately, however, everything has to be paid for. One of the big challenges Austrian companies are facing is low capital resources. The political framework should be reconsidered in this context, so that the development of a sound capital base could be promoted by exempting undistributed profits from taxation.
A friend of mine has rejected help from the hardship fund even though he currently has no earnings. His view is “I can afford to eat sausage rolls for a few more days”. However, this attitude has unfortunately become rare. Some solidarity is good for us all, and not just in exceptional times. It is important to buy locally – whether shoes from the local shoe shop, a suit from the tailor or goods from a specialist retailer – as those people who work there also buy their ice cream from us. You can also buy locally on line.However, Europe hasn't woken up to this yet. We need European suppliers who offer alternatives to Google, Facebook and Amazon. China or Russia manage this and we can too.
What tips do you have for other business entrepreneurs on how to deal with the crisis?
Whatever you do, do not wallow in self pity and get upset about everything. That will not make the situation any better. I read a lot about companies who are talking about government measures and inadequate aid. Come on – this is Europe, and although the economic effects are hitting us hard, it is not a matter of pure survival in most cases. We always have prospects,and I am convinced that – as individuals and as a society – we have enough restorative powers to overcome these challenges.
Crowdfunding with Conda for Vanillas will continue until mid-July.
Services of the Vienna Business Agency
- Funded through the programme Home Office 2020
- Funded through the programme Vienna Online 2020
- Funded through the programme Nahversorgung 18-21
Status: May 2020