Café case study - From Norway to the North

Café case study - From Norway to the North

In the heart of Harrogate’s bustling Oxford Street, a little piece of Scandinavia has emerged to shake up the town’s food offering and add something a little different to the mix in this town of tearooms and tradition. Not that there’s anything wrong with tea and tradition, of course, but when you fancy something a little different, Baltzersen’s in certainly the place.

Paul Rawlinson studied electronic engineering in his younger years, before joining the army training programme at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and subsequently serving five years as an officer. An unlikely café owner then? Well, perhaps not. “My family has a hospitality background,” he explains. “Mum and dad both trained as chefs, and even my grandparents owned a café in London back in the 60s.

“My grandma was Norwegian and she attended the London Olympics in 1948 where she met my grandpa and came to live in the UK the following year. Baltzersen was her maiden name and the café is named after her.”

When Paul was younger he always talked about opening a Scandinavian-inspired café with his family. While serving in Afghanistan he wrote a document about what this would be like, eventually returning, getting married and deciding that the army life wasn’t going to be for them long-term. “I applied for a few jobs,” says Paul, “but my heart wasn’t really in them. I had this idea and I wanted to give it a shot.”

Scandinavian influence pervades all parts of the café, from the interiors and the menu to the design and approach. It’s a very family-centric business and that was one of the biggest things Paul experienced when visiting family in Norway. Everything, he tells me, is built around the family group. “It’s a nice way of life,” he says.

The menu is the place where the differences are most apparent, as much by the use of a few ‘foreign’ words as anything else! Baking is a huge part of Scandi culture and therefore a big part of what they do here too. The cinnamon buns are the bakery product Baltzersen’s is most famous for, but actually it’s skolebrød (school buns) that are Paul’s favourite product. “It’s cardamom dough filled with custard and topped with a layer of icing and desiccated coconut,” he says. “Sweet treats and strong coffee is why the Swedes have the word ‘fika’ [to have coffee – often with cake] and we encourage people to enjoy a fika at Baltzersen’s.”

Ingredients are sourced locally, and this is very important to Paul. Delifresh out of Bradford is used for fruit and veg, with meat from Sykes House Farm in Wetherby and fish from Ramus based right here in Harrogate. Bulk sugars and flours come from long-standing family firm Shepcote in Driffield, and Paul also takes speciality ingredients from the Leeds-based Suma. Yorkshire is a pretty good larder it seems, as Paul even gets his halloumi cheese from Yorkshire Dama Cheese based in Sowerby Bridge – founded just three years ago by Razan Alsous, a Syrian refugee.

“We serve a bespoke espresso blend that we developed with North Star Coffee Roasters and serve single origin batch brew from Maude Coffee Roasters, both based in Leeds,” says Paul. “Milk, cream and butter comes direct from Acorn Dairy, an organic farm just over the border in County Durham. We changed briefly for a six-week period, but we put stock in knowing the people behind the ingredients we use and we’ve not looked back since.

“Our tea comes from ace husband and wife team Paul and Ann Davis from The Tea Experience in Doncaster – we get so many compliments about it. These two are something of a secret weapon.”

A lot of the dishes are inspired by Paul’s childhood. Baltzersen’s is especially famous for its waffles, and these are a particularly vivid part of Paul’s youth. He lived in a cul-de-sac, knew all the kids on the street and late on Sunday afternoons he remembers his dad whipping up batches of waffle batter. “He’d call us into the house and 10 or 15 kids of all ages would pile in to have waffles with jam or Nutella and freshly whipped cream. We imported two waffle irons from Trondheim in Norway and we serve freshly made waffles in the café.” So the local kids can afford them, they are half price mid-week from 3pm.

Paul’s dad inherited his great-grandma’s handwritten recipe book – she went to ‘housewife’ school in 1919 and began writing it there. “It’s lovely to leaf through it – a collection that was added to over the following years and pick out the odd recipe to try. It’s all written in Norwegian and I don’t speak the lingo, so I have to rely on the Norwegian ex-pat community or get my dad to dredge up what he learnt while working out there as a baker in the ‘70s.”

Paul’s grandma was a good baker. She’d always have biscuits and cake hidden away somewhere in her kitchen. Paul likes to try and offer some of the traditional things she used to bake, but then also create some more modern recipes. That’s absolutely essential these days, especially if you are trying to cater for the range of dietary requirements the café sees on a regular basis.

Paul’s values for the business are all based around creating a place that people want to spend a part of their lives in. That could be a short visit once every couple of months, popping in daily, or a big chunk of their working life. Treating guests and colleagues with respect is very important, as is approaching the work they do with an eye on quality and consistency. “We are always looking for feedback and use that to try and improve what we do,” says Paul. “We are conscious that the industry is always moving forward and if we don’t keep up we’ll put ourselves in a difficult position.

“After all that, one of the mantras we talk about is ‘do the small things right’ – remember a name, clean up a spill, pick up that bit of litter or tidy the magazines – all things that make an infinitesimal difference.”

There are quite a lot of things that contribute to setting Baltzersen’s apart in Harrogate. One element for sure is that pretty much everything is made in-house. The only thing Paul buys in as a finished product is the bread – from Bondgate Bread in Otley. They cure their own salmon for gravlaks; all pastries are baked fresh from scratch every morning; they make meatballs; cook chicken; create salads; and do tonnes of other jobs every day. Not many places do that any more.

“I think if you asked regular guests what sets us apart, they would almost certainly say our team are a big part of what keeps them coming back. We have a nice mixture of full-time and part-time staff, with even some of the youngest members of the team having worked here for a number of years. We recognise faces, learn names, remember drink preferences, and it adds to the feeling of being a place that you are welcome.

“One silly thing, but it all adds up, is that three years ago we installed a chilled and filtered still and sparkling water tap. It looks like a beer tap and guests are free to help themselves. People love that tap, and from a business perspective it saves our team having to fetch water for guests all the time.”

Looking to the future, Paul says that his mission is to “spread hygge throughout Yorkshire and beyond”. Hygge loosely means ‘to acknowledge a special feeling or moment – at home or with friends, but always cosy, charming or special’. “That’s what we plan to do in the coming years. We’re five and a half years old and still a single site. There is always more work to do refining this, place but I think it’ll be time for a younger brother or sister to come along before too long.

“I really like the idea of baking our own bread and really trying to expand the range of pastries that we serve. I’d like to make weinerbrød, which is one of my dad’s favourite things.”

Having experienced the hygge at Baltzersen’s, it’s clear that more of it can only be a good thing, whether that be in Harrogate or beyond.