If you walk around the café-packed Telok Ayer Street in Singapore, you can’t miss it. The smell of freshly baked sourdough bread from the oven overwhelms you, and it’s the sweet perfume of home in Denmark. Even if you’re not Danish, the grey letters G Æ S T on the front glass door has caught your attention, and don’t worry: the owner is not Danish himself. Danish café food and coffee are for everyone. ScandAsia meets GÆST owner Alex Thönissen, a global man in a global world running a Danish business.
“It’s quite funny, because most of our guests greet me in Danish, and I am speechless,” says Alex Thönissen.
In March 2015 this Dutch/South African bought the café from its Danish founders, and he wanted to keep the Danish concept. He had never worked in the restaurant field before, neither had he any experience with Danish cuisine. He has a passion for coffee, and when he heard GÆST was for sale, he visited the little café to have a look. It didn’t take more than a salmon sandwich and freshly brewed coffee, before he had made up his mind.
“I wanted to run this café,” says Alex. “I was fascinated about the Danish style, and not only did I buy the café, I bought the Danish concept, too.”
The Danish concept is just simplicity done well. Alex explains: “We keep it simple by keeping it Danish. We don’t fusion with other cuisines, instead we follow the original recipes from GÆST. Our interior and decoration are kept minimalistic and in neutral colors. ” Alex says. Well, except the food.
“We believe in fresh quality food, and it’s our key thing to make it fresh. We make most of the food ourselves everyday, except the smoked salmon. Our salmon comes from a local smokehouse, and we believe it’s better to buy from locals instead of import smoked salmon from overseas.”
Fit for a Danish queen’s birthday
GÆST has developed a high reputation in Singapore. Not only among Danes. “I believe 40 per cent of our customers are local Singaporeans. Many of our guests are in fact “local expats”; guests, who are already familiar with Danish/Nordic cuisine after living abroad. They are happy to find some nostalgia at GÆST.”
Alex has established good relationships with many Danish business in Singapore, and it is often GÆST’s food that is chosen for Danish events. GÆST was hired to serve food at the Danish Ambassador’s residence for the Royal birthday celebration of the Danish queen this year, 2016.
And what does a Danish café serve for a queen? “Drømmekage (“dream cake”, a white pound cake with coconut butter topping). It was extremely popular; 10 minutes after it was served, it was gone.” A queen’s worthy indeed. GÆST is open to both delivery and to bring out, why many Danish companies are ordering take away from the little Danish café to everything from larger events to work lunches.
Since Alex is not born Danish, he is doing everything he can to make GÆST as Danish as possible.
“The GÆST team keep an eye on trends from Denmark to follow up on what is happening in Danish café culture. We want it to make it feel like our guests might as well could be at a café in Copenhagen,” says Alex. At the moment it’s popular in the café world to sell their own bread, and GÆST sells full and half loaves. ”
Since GÆST opened, the original menu from the Danish owners has remained, adding some addtitional soup options developed with inspiration from the Danish café scene. GÆST serves sandwiches, salads, soups, baked goods, and of course, coffee. So far the business is growing smoothly, and guests have already shown their love for the Danish concept.
During the interview, every second person walking by is greeting us, and Alex waves and greets back every time. “Hehe, yes, we have a lot of regulars,” he says. The Danish community in Singapore counts around 1500 Danes, and as mentioned, the biggest Danish businesses choose GÆST for events and Danish traditions such as celebrating the Danish queen. Not being Danish himself, Alex is happy to create awareness of a concept he loves to the whole world.
“I guess food language is a global language.”
And no matter where you come from, GÆST are happy to have you as guest.