This week I interviewed another lady who has established her business in Budapest. Coming all the way from Mexico and falling in love with the city, she decided to pursue her dream and opened an artisan bakery where she could continue her passion for baking. Tortuga és Pohánka, offers not only delicious sourdough bread and rolls but also traditional Mexican pastries. In our quite extensive interview Karen explained to me how she ended up in Budapest, and her complex procedure of starting a business as an non EU citizen in the Hungarian capital.
You are originally from Mexico, how did it happen that you moved to Budapest?
Before being a baker, I was a teacher. I’ve taught in different countries, usually underdeveloped countries. I was between moving back to San Diego, CA and coming to Budapest. I decided to give Budapest a 10-day visit and I loved it here. It is the perfect balance of city life and nature. It’s just where I felt like I needed to stay.
You own a bakery Tortuga és Pohánka, was it a complicated process to start a business, here in Budapest as a non EU member?
The process can definitely be complicated. I started my business slowly and it took about a year and a half before I could open a store-front, but it was worth taking my time. Since we opened we haven’t had any complications which is something many people warned me about.
Before starting my business I looked for people, in my case other Latin American people who had opened businesses here and asked them questions and advice. For anyone trying to open a business I would suggest the same; contact your embassy and community. The Mexican embassy has a list of Mexican businesses which was very helpful.
After gathering all the information necessary my husband and I got all the papers in order so that once we established the company without a store-front we were already ahead of the game.
I think many times people start a business and figure it out as they go. But gathering paperwork as it is asked makes the process more stressful, not that what we did was exactly relaxing but at least when we were meeting with lawyers and authorities everything went so much smoother.
What type of specialties your bakery offers to clients?
Our bakery makes all sweet, salty, and plain breads with 100% natural products. From using sourdough instead of chemical levain to vanilla bean instead of vanilla sugar or extract. We have a small garden in the south of Hungary where we plant and harvest most of our ingredients, which gives our breads a special taste and feeling. For example we make a Pumpkin spiced pie the pumpkin is from our garden and the spices are all natural as well. There have been many people who go in saying, “I don’t like pumpkin but I heard this pie is good” they try it and come back asking for more.
In Mexico, it is very important to us that we eat from the land in which we are living. Some people say it allows you to live longer; whether that is true or not I don’t know, but the impact on the body of eating the food you grow from the soil you walk on, the water you drink, and the air you breathe has been shown to benefit rather than harm. We don’t really have “specialties” in the bakery but rather the bakery is a specialty, because there is no other like it.
What are the biggest challenges in running a successful bakery in city like Budapest?
Patience. Especially at the moment you hear about a new bakery opening up almost everywhere. Since we opened, there have been at least two others close by which have opened and closed. We could be giving the best products in Budapest, but if we give up before people get to know us then everyone loses.
We have been open for 9 months now, and we still get people coming in asking what this shop is and what they can buy. Many times people hear that we are an artisan bakery and they think “oh it’s expensive” and give up on it. But we don’t give up on them. We let them try something small and 75% of the time they come back and tell others about us.
Marketing can be tricky because all other bakeries are saying the same thing, “Best Products Here” “All Natural” “Artisan Style” so patience I would say is key. We can buy marketing and put our logo everywhere but what’s going to make us successful is the people. Letting people enjoy coming to the bakery getting to know them, give them that small-town feel of a passionate and delicious bakery rather than just another bakery with extra butter in their scones.
What are the pros of running a business in Hungary, compering to Mexico?
Well, I can partially answer this question. I never opened a business in Mexico. As mentioned earlier I was a teacher who baked all the time and worked in bakeries during holidays. But what I can say is that opening an Artisan Bakery with Mexican Bread here in Hungary has a lot of pros. The main one being – there is no other Mexican bakery in Hungary. In Mexico we eat our sweet bread for breakfast, maybe as a lunch dessert, and sometimes for a light dinner. Tortas (Mexican Sandwiches) are also something we eat very often in Mexico. These are things that people here have never seen or tasted; and we have it made in a traditional style.
Food is a way of traveling and experiencing culture without leaving your home town.
Cons can be that some people don’t want to try something new. But thankfully, so far, those are not our customers.
Tell me a bit more how your typical working day looks like?
A typical work day looks very packed; our days need to be very organized and timed correctly since we bake so many products in such a small space.
I wake up at 3am get to work at 4am to start the main half-kilo breads, some sweet breads need to rest overnight so I take them out and let them proof before baking.
Then the sweet bread starts mixing, I shape the Kalács dough and let it rest; prepare the sweet breads for proofing as well. Every 30 minutes I fold the bread.
At 6am I deliver breads to coffee shops. Get back to put the sweet breads in the oven and start the Kifli – some with cheese, ham and cheese, and other plain. Right before 7am I am taking breads out of the oven putting others in, setting the breads on the shelves to be sold and 7am we open.
By 7:30am I refresh the “madre” sourdough and by 8 latest I start another batch of bread and prepare more sourdough to be used later, I bake the kifli around this time and make a quiche. 9am I start pre-shaping the first batch of bread and final shaping it into their bannetons; somewhere in between the kifli came out and is already on display to be sold. Then I put the Kalács in the oven and start shaping some sweet bread.
Around 10am I start a third batch of half-kilo bread. By the time I am almost finished with the sweet bread, the half-kilo bread is ready to go into the oven usually about 3-4 hours of resting. As soon as it is in the oven I start the pre-shaping and final shaping of the second batch.
I finish the decorations of our sweet breads and make the syrup for our babkas. Next thing I know it is 2pm and the second batch of breads is ready for baking. Another batch of Kalács is made at around 3pm and another batch of kiflis. Everything is sold fresh.
The third batch of half-kilo breads is also ready around this time and by 5pm it is ready to be baked. All the baking is finished around 6pm and by 7pm we are closed.
Not only am I doing all of this but I am also serving customers and talking to them about how they are doing.
It may sound like a lot and maybe even stressful but what I can say is that it is high-energy. Personally I don’t drink coffee, and I feel like with a job like this where I do what I love while having laughs and chats with customers, who needs coffee? I still have energy to get home have dinner with my husband and work on our social media.
Thankfully of course I have a partner who is a real partner, an equal, and although I may be here in the bakery more often, he is still my rock; helps me and does so much outside the bakery that without him this would not be as fun.
If you wish to buy fresh bread made from sourdough, or try some Mexican specialities, you should definitely visit this bakery. The bakery also offers seating upstairs where you can enjoy your food and aromatic coffee in a cozy interior.
Tortuga és Pohánka is located at Wesselényi utca 64. Open Monday to friday from 7 am till 7 pm.