New venture recipe
If you were going into the restaurant business, you’d probably want to be Claus Meyer. His Copenhagen-based eatery Noma, was hailed as the best restaurant on the planet from 2010–2014 by Restaurant Magazine. Featuring Nordic cuisine that includes fresh seafood, local herbs and radishes in edible “soil,” Noma draws superlatives from critics that go way beyond delicious and mouth watering. So what are the ingredients behind its success?
Without a recipe
Meyer grew up in Denmark, an environment where food was neither pleasure nor luxury, but necessity. Intending to become a banker when he was a student, Meyer spent a year in the south of France. There, the purpose of food took on new meaning. It was more than nutrition—it was beauty. At the age of 21, he returned to Denmark and “knew deeply inside that I wanted to change Danish food culture … and I believed I could do it.” It was a grand vision for someone yet to finish university, and one with no clear starting point.
From the fridge
Cooking meals and starting new ventures have a lot in common, as Meyer himself points out. One way is to start with a tried and tested recipe, get the necessary ingredients, follow instructions carefully and produce a company. The other is to open the refrigerator, peer inside and create something—a new dish—an unexpected business model—an entirely innovative venture no one involved could have predicted in advance. Meyer took the second path, capitalising on the availability of the university kitchen to launch his first venture, a catering and delivery business for students run with the benefit of his Raleigh bicycle.
Into the kitchen
Like many meals, new ventures often start like Meyer’s: a function of what is available and who wants to tie on an apron. Indeed, cooks of every kind and even non-cooks have since joined with him and contributed their own ingredients and flavours to the mix. The result is that Meyer and his partners have launched nearly a venture a year over the last 25 years. The Meyer Group imports chocolate to Scandinavia with partner Søren Sylvest, a relationship that cooked up ventures in coffee importing as well as cafés. With Mette Martinussen, Meyer created a theatre-like restaurant and also built a factory to manufacture soy cakes. He has hosted a television cookery show and yet more collaboration has taken him into the hotel business, corporate catering, food consulting and a non-profit food laboratory. And that’s not all. Meyer has established a micro vinegar brewery, an organic commercial orchard and a boutique bakery. He has authored several cookbooks, gives lectures, and he is active in health and wellness research. Even the famed Noma, which has dealt a fatal blow to jokes about Nordic cuisine being an oxymoron, is a partnership with kitchen chef René Redzepi.
Venture à la mode
In many ways, Meyer has come full circle. Twenty-five years later, he can fairly claim a recipe for his vision. Not through any one of his ventures, though, but through the process that led to the accumulation of them all. Whether it’s changing Danish food culture or changing the world, real entrepreneurship kneads together an enormous amount of information culled from the experiences of large numbers of people such as those who contributed in some greater or lesser way to the runaway success of Noma. The vision imbibes the resultant flavours into a heady blend that appears to have always been part of the recipe. Entrepreneurship is not an all-or-nothing heroic act associated with the unique insight of a single chef. It is about learning, interaction, and application combined through acts of continual co-creation. It starts with Meyer taking the first step and then pushing onward step after step, partner by partner—not informed by a plan, but by the previous step, the people around him, and the available resources at each stage. So now that your appetite is whetted, what’s in your fridge?