When it opened, Copenhagen’s Nordisk Brødhus in Nørrebro was the, well, toast of the town.
Guides, food blogs, magazine articles and newspapers fell over themselves praising owner Lennart Ribers and his high-end, rustic bakery and cafe.
Ribers was nominated as ‘Copenhagener of the year’, and the cafe was called the best in town by several publications.
The other side of the story
Though things may have been great for the customers, Ribers’ employees and creditors tell a different tale of unpaid salaries and bills and general mismanagement.
Lars Kildebo worked as a baker at the cafe from January until May of this year, but claims he only received slightly over one month’s salary, paid to him directly with no taxes deducted. Kildebo said it was the atmosphere at Nordisk Brødhus and Ribers’ golden tongue that caused him to hang on for so long.
“Looking back, I can see that I was naive,” Kildebo told avisen.dk. “But he [Ribers] is a smooth talker, and when he explains everything, you believe him. Plus, it was a damn good place.”
Long hours, no bread
Kildebo is one of three workers whose unions have filed cases against Ribers at the Copenhagen municipal court. One of those cases has been awaiting a decision for over a year, partially because Ribers has failed to appear at the hearings. Food workers union NNF said it hopes to force Nordisk Brødhus to declare bankruptcy.
Early this year, employees took to social media to complain about life at the cafe, including unpaid wages that they said were causing them to default on rent and other debts.
“Some of us are owned 30,000 kroner,” read one Facebook post. “We have loved the work, but the lack of pay is frustrating. Many of us are students and this has cause us serious economic problems.”
Another group feeling duped by Ribers are ‘members’ who paid 10,000 kroner each into the project that they believed would be invested in a locally-based co-op.
“The idea was to start something local, not to make money,” said member Rasmus Boysen Schmidt.
Although he said he was not sure of the exact numbers, he believed that Ribers collected nearly 400,000 kroner but only increased the shop’s working capital by 100,000 kroner.
Schmidt said he does not believe that the Nordisk Brødhus will reopen, even though the official line is that it will return at a new location.
The baker speaks
Ribers posted on his Facebook page that many of the claims being made against him are not true.
“I have tried everything to make it work,” he wrote. “Hopefully there are those who remember our first three years when we shared everything, made food for those who couldn’t pay and gave out credit.”
Ribers expressed dismay at those who where focused only on what had gone wrong and said that he resented his premises being branded as an “elite” or “hipster” cafe.
Ribers candidly admitted he has let some employees and investors down, and said that he was looking for a way to repay everyone and reopen Nordisk Brødhus.
“That is the most important goal. I just have to find a way to reach it,” he said.