Danes Gamble on New Life, Business in Red Bank
Lone and Claudi Kofod, of Denmark, recently opened the Danish Cafe in the Galleria.
The worst fate, they can agree, is waking up one day with regret, wondering why the chance was never taken.
Sitting at the table in their new café Monday afternoon beneath a flag of Denmark, husband and wife duo Lone (pronounced Lo-na) and Claudi Kofod discussed the challenges associated with leaving their home and starting a new business venture here in the United States. The paperwork and uncertainty of applying for an investors visa to enter the country, the cash-only rental and purchasing options for foreigners, and the government clock ticking down each day on a profitability deadline have all made the move more challenging.
Yet, it was the alternative – not even trying – that proved more daunting.
The Kofods recently opened The Danish Café at the Galleria after several trips stateside to scout locations and business opportunities. The café, which the Kofods say is the only one in the area to offer authentic Danish cuisine, is the result of hard work and a bit of risk the couple was willing to take in order to make their business adventure, developed in daydreams and hurried along by a sense of impulse, a reality.
“We don’t want to grow old in Denmark, sit back and say ‘Why didn’t we do that?’” Claudi said. “Maybe we’re crazy, but we had to take the chance.”
The café is as authentically Danish as they can make it. The bread used in their open-face sandwiches is a sort of dense rye Kofod said you wouldn’t often find here in the states. Taking their rye request to a new baker eager to please one of her newest clients, they’ve developed what they feel is the closest facsimile to the bread they’re used to in Denmark. The danishes are, well, danishes, authentic and imported directly from Denmark.
Easier, yes, but no, Kofod said, it wouldn’t be the same to purchase danishes baked stateside. The recipes aren’t the same, the butter’s not the same, and American-made danishes just lack the kind of flaky texture that can only be found in baked goods produced an ocean away.
All of it, from the salted licorice to the hardboiled eggs, to the fine Danish culinary details, such as sunflower seeds baked into the rye, is part of a vision to introduce their homeland to America, to Red Bank.
“I feel like when people realize that there is a place to get great Danishes, and really good open-faced sandwiches, they’ll come here,” Claudi, 47, said. “We’re something completely different.”
Different is the story of how they came to open their new café, which is hosting its grand opening this Wednesday. At first, the plan was to open a small hotel or bed and breakfast, something similar to the place they’d run together in their hometown on the island of Bornholm, an island in the Baltic Sea with a population of around 42,000 that’s actually closer to Sweden than mainland Denmark. When they set off on their U.S. business expedition and started investigating how, exactly, they’d fund their work, the idea of what business suited them started to change.
Lone, 50, said the pair looked at places throughout the state, from Belmar down to Cape May. With even the most modest b&b’s coming with price tags in the millions of dollars and with the Kofods unable to secure a loan, what with having no stateside credit, the bed portion of the plan dissolved along the way. While the pair have the requisite banking history to make seeking a loan in Denmark a non-issue, in the U.S. the Kofods are creditless, non-existent to our financial institutions. So far, business here, from paying rent, refurbishing the restaurant space, and paying suppliers has been handled strictly with cash.
“We can’t get a mortgage here because we don’t have residency, and we couldn’t get one in Denmark to open a place here,” Lone said. “And to get (the investors visa) we had to find the right spot, had to present it in our business plan and start paying rent before we found out if our (visa) application was accepted.”
Though the issues have compounded during the process, now that the restaurant is open, tackling the list has gotten easier. Developing work schedules, tending to computer problems, and ensuring that deliveries are made on time is less of a concern when you’re four miles away instead of 4,000.
Now, the Kofods are drawing their attention to the clicking clock of their investors visa. In two years, Lone said, The Danish Café has to prove profitable enough to warrant a reissuing. How profitable is profitable enough remains to be seen – Lone said the application language is vague on that front – but with the initial visa application accepted in April, the Kofods are already four months in to their U.S. business experiment.
Lone said there’s pressure, but noted that the worst thing that can happen is that they have to go home, still with the satisfaction of knowing they tried. Claudi is a bit more optimistic. He’s already thinking expansion, Lone said, though she’ll settle for success at one location for now.
“When we look back in 10, 20 years,” Claudi said. “We can say ‘look how much we’ve done in such a small time.’”