It began with a quiche. Milian Stadelmaier had returned jobless to a harsh Berlin lockdown after a sunny sojourn in South America. He wasn’t worried though; he and his room mate and fellow chef Geo Arriat had been working on a plan for years.
They went to their local cafe every morning for coffee. It was run by another Frenchman, Damian Sahri, who they had been pestering for tips on how to make it Berlin’s gastronomy world. The three had bonded over their shared expat experience and love of cooking good food. When lockdown hit and they could only do takeaway, Sahri asked if they wanted him to sell their quiche through the window at Mirage.
When the lockdown did finally end, that first quiche turned into jobs, and then a partnership. Stadelmaier and Arriat bought out Sahri’s old partner after 18 months of working at Mirage. They were finally going to start their own business in Berlin, after years of unpaid overtime and Schwarzgeld in Berlin’s restaurant scene.
But the journey had been long. Arriat and Stadekmaier met at a party as teenagers in their home town Bordeaux, but knew they had to broaden their horizons if they were going to make it big. After going their own ways for a few years and learning the ropes in London, Barcelona and Amsterdam, the two reunited and moved to the Hauptstadt to pursue their dream of having something to call their own.
They moved to Wedding and never left. Initially attracted by the affordability, they both fell in love with the quietness and authenticity of Nettlebeckkiez, enamoured with how low-key and unpretentious it was compared to the well-to-do areas where they worked (the Kreuzberg Riviera, Paul Linke Ufer and that one nice bit of Steglitz).
Sahri was already a Wedding veteran when the Bordeaux boys started buying coffee from Mirage every morning. He had moved to Berlin to work in music and event management ten years ago. Initially he worked as a tour guide taking rowdy groups on bar crawls, and then there was the coiffer phase.
When they became full partners, Oeuf was born, a French/American brunch spot that serves as a splash of colour on Nettelbeckplatz, a quiet cobblestone square with a fountain dappled in sunlight.
The location was exactly what the Bordeaux boys had spent years looking for; with their newly formed partnership, the boys were in the right place at the right time to break into a scene that was just establishing itself in Wedding. And it was just around the corner from their apartment! Noticing how Wedding’s demographics were subtly changing, the trio figured they now had a customer base that would be interested in what they wanted to cook.
As much as they enjoyed their neighbourhood the way it was, they saw there was an untapped niche. “We want to contribute, and there is still something to build here. I could count on one hand the places that I like to eat at in Wedding”. Not exactly the glowing praise you want to hear from a chef, but they have a point. There isn’t much filling the gap between döner kebab and Michelin stars in the area.
Much like Wedding itself, Oeuf’s food is a mix of old and new. “Our food is unpretentious. We make stuff that we like to eat. Street food with a French touch. French street food doesn’t really exist, so we added some American flair and invented it.” Their sandwich ‘Le Christian’ is named for Stadelmaier’s grandmother because it uses her recipe for fish terrine.
Aware of the history and culture of Wedding, they were very conscious of trying to keep their fare affordable; sandwiches are €10 or less. A plate of eggs on sourdough starts at €10 but extras will cost you another €2 each. “You can’t get that in Paris or London. We eat out nearly every day because Berlin is comparatively so cheap, and we also wanted to be a part of that.”
Whilst relatively inexpensive compared to a Kreuzberg counterpart, this kind of brunch isn’t affordable for every Wedding resident. “There are negative and positive aspects to gentrification,” Sahri admits. “It’s usually good for business but not necessarily for anything else.”
Serviced apartments and office buildings have sprung up in the surrounding streets in recent years, in stark contrast to what was already present in Berlin’s poorest district. The clash of cultures is not lost on the Oeuf boys. “We have a mix of everything here: crackheads and drunks fighting on the platz, next to our guests brunching and drinking frozen margaritas, but then also families with babies. We love it though”.
Come the weekend, the boozy brunches take on a festival vibe. Hungry Berliner foodies are now coming from all over the city for their egg-based dishes with cocktails on the side. Besides a delicious Margarita, they offer a selection of natural wines, hand picked for them by their countrymen at Vinovici.
Things are quieter during the week, but Oeuf gets by because of its weekend turnover. Like the rest of the industry, they have struggled with staffing issues in their first three months. A stack of tables sits in the basement gathering dust, itching to be brought out into the afternoon sun. Plans to be a local wine bar hangout will have to wait until gastronomy becomes more appealing to workers again.