– when bread becomes a way of life They were just two young boys with a passion for baking and a good eye for business, but fate would that Ole Kristoffersen from Roskilde in one end of Denmark and Steen Skallebæk from Fredericia in the other end of the country would meet and eventually make something as simple as bread into a multi million business. Their goal was to revolutionize the experience of buying freshly baked bread and with Lagkagehuset the two bakers did just that, and with 31 national stores, they are only just getting started. Text Fie West Madsen | Photographer Marie Louise Munkegaard
t is hard to find a person in Denmark today who would not know what Lagkagehuset is, and that is not weird at all. Because since 2008, when the two bakers Ole Kristoffersen and Steen Skallebæk joined forces and created Lagkagehuset, new stores with freshly baked bread and cakes has popped up all over Denmark. In 2011 three stores opened within one week, and today Lagkagehuset has grown from the small bakery Ole Kristoffersen opened in 1991 at Christianshavns Torv in the heart of Copenhagen, to a business with 1000 employees and 31 stores throughout the country – and with more coming. But it all started in a much simpler manner, back when Ole Kristoffersen and Steen Skallebæk were just boys who liked to get their hands in the dough.
Bread in the blood
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About the name: Lagkagehuset
For Ole Kristoffersen the love for bread and cakes was not there from the very beginning even though it could seem natural as he was born into a family of bakers. His father, uncles and his grandfather were all bakers – and other family members as well. He grew up in the middle sized town Roskilde a little outside of Copenhagen and already at the age of 10 years old, Ole started to help out his father in the local bakery in Roskilde. - I worked in the bakery with my father for five years or so while taking care of school on the side. But after those five years I did not really want to do it anymore, I did not think it was really my thing so I started high school instead. I was there for a year, but then somehow I ended up not taking my exams and I found out that being a baker might not be so bad, Ole tells. - I got an apprenticeship at a local bakery “Den gamle bagergård” in Roskilde and I have been baking ever since and never regretted it for a single moment.
“Lagkage” directly translated means “layered cake” and it is a traditional danish birthday cake with cream and fruit between the different layers and often wipped cream and fruit or chocolate on top. The building where Ole Kristoffersen opened his first bakery was called “Lagkagehuset” because the building looked like this kind of cake and as “huset” means “house” - “Lagkagehuset” became the name of the building.
By 1984 Ole was a trained baker and he worked for a while before going on an adventure to the United States, where he took jobs as both baker and pastry chef and “everything that gave 6 dollars per hour – you had to live”, as Ole says. After a few years he returned to Denmark and worked in different bakeries before making the decision to become his own boss, to open his own bakery. - In a way I always knew that I wanted my own place. I am born into a family where having
your own business has been a tradition for generations, so it felt like the natural step and I could not imagine doing anything else. Initially I thought that I was gonna open my own bakery as an 18-year old, but then the United States came in the way and all of a sudden I was 28 before opening Lagkagehuset, Ole explains. He bought an existing bakery on the corner of Christianshavns Torv in 1991. It was already called Lagkagehuset, which roughly translated means “House of cake in layers”, because the building that houses the bakery looks like a cake in several layers and with different colors. People in the area already knew the name and Ole saw no reason to change it. He quickly drew attention as the new owner of the bakery, mainly because he did something that was not seen before in Copenhagen bakery business. - In 1992 a year after I opened my bakery we took cold rise bread in as part of our product range and I also moved the oven from the bakery in the back and into the store so people could see it. After that it really took off, the business was busy all the time and we sold a lot. Ole always thought he just wanted one bakery, his bakery. But things went so well that after a couple of years at Christianshavn, expanding seemed like the natural thing to do and a new Lagkagehuset opened in the area of Vesterbro in Copenhagen. - “Besides, after 12 months you get bored, it all becomes everyday work and new things need to happen,” Ole laughs.
Cruising the world and the first drive-inn bakery In the other end of the country, in the town Fredericia in the province of Jutland, Steen Skallebæk did not know any bakers, but he knew he wanted to be one himself. Already as a teenage boy he got an internship at a local bakery and after that a summer job at another bakery. It seemed pretty straight forward from there and Steen Skallebæk got an apprenticeship as a baker at the age of 17 years old. - In the beginning it was just something I wanted to try, just to see what it was. But quickly, baking actually really caught my interest. I really found it interesting, Steen Skallebæk explains. As a trained baker he, like Ole Kristoffersen, felt the need to travel. Steen took a job as a baker at a cruise that went from Boston, down the east coast, through the Amazon river, the Panama
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The story of the “Christianshavner cake” One of Lagkagehusets signature cakes is “Christianshavner cake” with a white cake with nuts as the bottom and a fruity cream and fresh fruits on top. Today it is one of the best selling cakes and the recipe was developed about ten years ago. - One of our pastry chefs Lise was trying different things out and then one day she asked me to taste something, and that was all it took. I think this was around year 2000 and it has been with us since. When people have had it once they come back, and at wedding exhibitions people always love it and says to us: Oh my, its the “Christianshavner cake.” Unfortunately a lot of people is trying to copy the recipe at the moment, hopefully they will not succeed.
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canal and up the californian coast. It was three months of intensive work from early morning to late evening and during 13 months Steen took the trip three times. A dream about travelling in Australia also came true before Steen again returned home to Denmark and started working as a baker in a local super market. - I got a bit trapped in the whole super market thing, and I had known from the start that I wanted to have my own bakery. I had actually saved some money on different accounts and I used it to buy a small bakery, that the owner had build from the ground himself. He almost had his 30 years anniversary but we were really well received in the area, it was like there was a whole in the market and the city was ready for something new. The little bakery was situated in Haderslev and called “Skallebæk” after Steens own last name. Good quality and freshly baked bread were keywords in the store instead of the bake-off you would see in some super markets. And the costumers liked it a lot. - I have pictures of costumers standing outside on the street waiting because the store was too crowded. We could not keep up with the good sales so we had to bake throughout the day, bakers runing around in the store, and that really spiked peoples’ interest in us, Steen Skallebæk says. He knew that it was time to expand to keep up with the costumers’ demands, but he had problems getting the space he wanted. That was until a lawyer suggested him to go all the way and go bigger. He adviced a piece of ground and even though a lot of people in the business told him it was a risky idea, Steen Skallebæk took a chance, bought the ground and in 2001 he built a 1500 square meter sized bakery and store only 50 meters down the road from his existing bakery. And as if that was not enough Steen also decided to include a drive-inn in his bakery, something that was never seen before in Denmark. - I knew we had to do something different with the new place. McDonalds had drive-inn with succes and I had also seen it different places in Australia, at a candy store for instance, and I thought it could be fun to try the idea at a bakery, Steen explains. - A tv-station came by the first day where we had no costumers in the drive-inn, and they reported that this new concept at “Skallebæk” did not work. But after that everyone wanted to come down and see what it was that did not work – and then all of a sudden it worked extremely well.
A team of success going all the way to Paris Ole Kristoffersen and “Lagkagehuset” in Copenhagen and Ole Skallebæk and his bakery “Skallebæk” both continued to do really well in different parts of Denmark and due to the relatively small circle of bakers in a small country like Denmark, of course the two successful bakery owners heard about each other and each others success. They first met back in the
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late 90’s because people in the business wanted them to meet. They had the same philosophy and succes, and the two bakers quickly saw that they could be useful to each other. - We were in a group with other people from the business who used each other to exchange experiences and good advices. And for us, I think, it was natural to use each others knowledge because both of our businesses were unnaturally successful. Both of our bakeries sold four or five times more than other big bakeries and both of us were very focused on doing real quality baking and no bake-off. I could see myself in Steen and the other way around, Ole tells about the two bakers’ early companionship. - I had been to Copenhagen to see the oven in Oles store, because people had told me that it was something worth seeing, and I found it really interesting that he had the oven in the store close to the costumers. I had to admit, I went home to Haderslev and my bakery and stole the idea right away, Steen adds and starts laughing. Ole and Steen found that in each other they had found an equally ambitious collegue and they helped each other and shared experiences and good advices for years. Because their businesses where in different parts of the country, the competition was not really a problem. - And because of that we could really be honest with each other, also about sales and strategy, and that was really liberating, Steen tells. As both businesses continued to grow through the 00’s the two bakers looked at the possibility of working even closer together. They started to negotiate with a group of Japanese businessmen who were interested in letting them open bakeries from Denmark and all the way down Europe to Paris. This was a possibility to take their successful bakeries to the next level. - The negotiations took place during several years, from about 2000-2006 and we actually thought that we had reached an agreement. We were even in Tokoyo and made a toast to “all the way to Paris” but after that, they had more questions all of a sudden, and we found out that our level of ambition was different, so it did not happen after all, Ole explains.
United forces and the key to success When the japanese adventure did not work out, Steen Skallebæk and Ole Kristoffersen had to change focus. And after years of helping each other out, sharing business ideas and experiences the two decided to take it one step further – they became partners. Our concepts in our different bakeries were not that far from each other so the only problem was to find an investor that could see the possibilities and had the same degree of ambition as we did, Ole explains. Ole and Steen ended up joining forces with the capital fond FNS who now owns 2/3 of the company. And in october 2008 the fusion was a fact - “Skallebæk” from Haderslev and
“Lagkagehuset” from Copenhagen was now one big bakery under the name of “Lagkagehuset”. Even though it meant that Steen had to give up his proud company name, he did not mind because it was for the benefit of the greater good. - Ole and Lagkagehuset were already famous and there had been a lot of focus on the stores. My brand Skallebæk was strong in the south of Jutland but to have that expand to the rest of the country would be a way tougher battle than to expand Lagkagehuset. Besides that my last name does not really relate to anything concerning bread og cakes where as Lagkagehuset is a direct reference to the craft our business do, Steen says. - And this decision pretty much shows how working together has been ever since. It has been reason first and then we will always find a soulution that both of us agree on. We are not in this to arm wrestle and see who is the stronger businessman, he elaborates. Only six weeks after the launch of the new Lagkagehuset a brand new 1600 squaremeter sized bakery opened in Aabenraa, and from that on everything went pretty fast. Today Lagkagehuset has 31 stores in Denmark and still adding more every year, but the recipe of success is not so easy to write. - It is always difficult to explain. If it was easy to put in words I am sure someone would have copied us by now. I think we are good at sticking to what we know, baking good quality bread and cakes, and then we have developed with our costumers. We do not always have new products just for the sake of having new products, sometimes we have six months without any news and if a product does not work, we remove it from the line of products quickly, Ole explains and adds that in the stores of Lagkagehuset all products are on the counter in just one layer, not several cakes on top of each other like in the super market. And that combined with an oven in the store and good qualities gives Lagkagehuset a unique profile that is not seen in other bakeries.
Different demands and a popular strawberry cake The trademark of Lagkagehuset is of course their bread and cakes, and even though it seems like a simple thing to sell, the reality is far from it. Denmark is only home to a little more than five million people, but what people want to eat in one part of the country, they do not even want to pay money for in the other part of the country. - Once we had these chili baguettes that were really popular in Jutland, but in Copenhagen we could not even sell two of them. It is strange, because they were really good, Ole laughs and Steen elaborates: A success in one part of the country is not necessarily one in the other part. The people who work with the statistics of the business have sometimes said: Oh my god, these are selling really well in Copenhagen, lets sell them in Jutland as well, but it does not work that way, there is a huge different on what people want even though it is mainly bread and cake we are selling.
Because of that only 60 percent of the products are constantly in all the bakeries – the rest variates after region and season, although a few things are popular no matter were you go. Rye bread is a national favorite even though there are big regional differences to what kind of rye bread the costumers want. In Copenhagen it has to be dark with a sour taste, while in Jutland they like their rye bread with a mild taste. And then there is the classical product which is also one of the bestsellers: the strawberry cake. - I think it has something to with the fresh fruit that makes it a quality and more exclusive product, because fruit is difficult to use in cakes that can last long. You can buy a lot of cakes in the super market that will never get old, but our strawberry cake is fresh and will only last about ten hours. And that is where our focus is, because we cannot compeed with the low prices they have a lot of places, but we can compete on the level of quality, and we want to make the best cake, Steen explains. - Sometimes we get complains or bad PR because of our differentiated prices, but we stand by our choices because we believe in the good quality over the cheap price, and we can see that our costumers rewards us for that. Everyone eats bread and it is easy to make yourself, but it is also a cheap luxury to buy a really good bread or a good, fresh cake.
Next up: The rest of the world With their famous strawberry cake and fresh bread Ole Kristoffersen and Steen Skallebæk has turned their small bakeries into a multi million dollar business, and they will continue to open stores in Denmark just as they are opening four new drive-inns within next year. But they have not stopped dreaming about the rest of the world as well, even though it did not work out with the japanese back in the early 00’s. - If everything goes well, we are opening stores abroad in 2015, but we do not know excactly where yet, we are looking into different countries but we have to do our homework properly. We need to know what kind of products they like in the different countries and what kind of customs are asociated with bread and cakes, Ole explains. And the two bakers hope, that the business they build from scratch and the passion for bread they had since childhood will live on once they are not there to be in charge. - Like putting the flag on the moon it would be nice to put a “Lagkagehuset” flag different places in the world, and see it spread out, Steen says and Ole agrees: I hope that when we are not in this business anymore we will be able to go around Europe or in the rest of the world, and then there will be a “Lagkagehuset” there, and then we can look and it and have a laugh about how it all started with a small bakery.
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The bakers’ own top-3 products Ole: I have more than three favorites, haha. But I think it have to be our chocolate ryebread, the Christianshavner cake and our normal rye breads – but I could also have chosen our Biga bread. Steen: For me it is also the rye breads and then the ciabatta. It is a classic but it works every time I serve it. And then the Biga bread that Ole mentioned, it is really good.