Four friends around 30 wanted to start a joint project. The result is Nelly's Quartierkafi on the edge of district 4: a place that does not make a profit but is self-supporting. Co-founder Lukas Rüegsegger and manager Pia Seessle are interested in something else: promoting community. In the neighbourhood, where people should know each other and get to know each other. And in their various families, who together have set up a passion project.
First, there was the gymnastics class. Four boys who all did gymnastics together became friends. They were five years old. The boys got older and so did the friendships; they moved away from the Zurich Unterland or travelled internationally for jobs. The friendship between the four men remained. Somehow they always managed to meet up again, preferably to have a drink and a meal together.
Over an after-work beer, they joked: "Come on, let's open a café." Then one of them suddenly got serious: "What do you think, would that be an idea?" - "We all rattled around for a moment," Lukas Rüegsegger tells today, "and then we thought, yes, why not? Then we started, in all seriousness, with a business plan and locations and so on".
'A time-consuming and instructive hobby.'
A business plan and a search for a location: that sounds like a conventional café. But that's not what the four founders had in mind. "We call it a passion project. For some it is a hobby. A time-consuming and educational hobby," laughs Lukas. Because the team that runs today's Nellys is a heterogeneous mix of volunteers and employees.
Also unusual: the restaurant is only open three days a week. Then there is lunch, soups, coffee and cake, and even breakfast on Saturdays. On the other four days, Nelly's is closed. The reason is simple: the four founders of the restaurant have no intention of making a big profit. For them, it's more about having a joint project and letting other people participate in it.
There's room for everyone at Nelly's.
The common room became a café for the neighbourhood: Nelly's is located where Hohlstrasse soon passes from Kreis 4 to Altstetten. The little garden outside is adorned with Swedish boxes, and an old gymnastics bar stands next to the entrance - a reminder of the gymnastics lessons that formed the beginning of the friendships. Even the name looks fondly to the past: Nelly was the name of Lukas' grandmother. "Everyone who came over got something to eat," he recalls, "there was room for everyone." That's how it should be at Nelly's.
'Everything in here is homemade.'
n the meantime, the team has not only been reinforced by relatives and friends, but also by a café manager: Pia Seessle is responsible for everything that is served - from cakes to soups to coffee. "It was good that the concept was not fixed, so we were able to improvise flexibly," she says. "Everything in here is homemade, and we don't just mean the food and drinks: the cushion covers are sewn by us, all the tables are painted by us, and some of the furniture comes from our own grandparents.
In most matters here, it was and still is: learning by doing." So since its founding, Nellys has become a kind of family business that lovingly expands the concept of family. "We can't and don't want to be a run-through café," says Lukas, "but a place where people know each other and get to know each other. We want to contribute to talking to people again, not just online." The fact that the café is only open three days a week also helps to keep it personal.
They are the Nellys.
Significantly, everyone who works in this restaurant, from the service staff to the co-founder, calls themselves by the same name: they are the Nellys. Once a month there is also "Nelly's Night" - the original team gets together with the guests. This way, not only the community in the neighbourhood grows, but also the idea that was at the beginning of the café is preserved: that a friendship that started one day in gym class continues.