Sue Opfermann sees herself as the mother of Wiedikon, Kreis 3. She prepares tasty, healthy and affordable lunchtime meals for hungry stomachs in the Lochergut area. The Zurich-born chef rolled out this concept to warm reviews in Frankfurt a few years ago.
There’s no sign of an email address or a telephone number on the Sue’s Kitchen website. ‘Just drop by,’ writes Sue. It’s a perfect distillation of her philosophy: to be welcoming, personal and uncomplicated. I write a short letter to Sue and pin it to her door in the morning. It’s not until lunchtime each day that Sue takes her place behind the counter at her café, Sue’s Kitchen, to serve pasta, curry and soup to the hungry denizens of Kreis 3.
Her philosophy: to be welcoming, personal and uncomplicated
We meet a short while later. She greets me with a broad smile and ushers me into her world: a small room with a bright counter, a green sofa, a few tables and chairs, and large, colourful paintings on the wall – all painted and built by Sue and her friends.
The 46-year-old opened her café exactly two years ago. Sue’s Kitchen is now one of the area’s most popular meeting places. ‘I’m the mother of the neighbourhood, but I cook for them like a grandmother here,’ says Sue with a laugh. Sue’s Kitchen has many regular customers. Every table is full come lunchtime, and the queue often stretches all the way around the corner. On average, she sells 60 meals a day. On very good days, that figure rises to 80 – in other words, until the pots and pans are empty. Customers who arrive too late miss out.
Sue doesn’t decide on the following day’s menu – written out on her blackboard – until the evening before.
Sue doesn’t decide on the following day’s menu – written out on her blackboard – until the evening before. For inspiration, she goes for a walk around the neighbourhood, drops in on her Moroccan retailer and pays a visit to the various local organic stores. The only thing that doesn’t change is that the menu always has one vegetarian option, two meat dishes, a soup and a salad. Sue’s Kitchen is organic and uses seasonal produce; the meat is sourced exclusively from Switzerland. Even so, the menus have an international character – Sue alternates between Italian, Asian and Mediterranean cuisine.
She doesn’t throw any food away; that’s one of her golden rules.
With dishes priced between CHF 8 and 14, the café is exceptionally affordable in Zurich terms. ‘At my place, nobody should be excluded because of the price,’ says Sue. A welfare organisation for addicts is situated right next door to her premises. She has an understanding with the residents there: any food remaining at 2 pm goes straight to her neighbours free of charge. She doesn’t throw any food away; that’s one of her golden rules.
Sue comes from a family of restaurateurs and grew up in Effretikon. She attended hotel management college and knows the business from A to Z. Sue moved to Frankfurt more than 10 years ago with the dream of establishing her own eatery. While in Frankfurt, she opened Sue’s Soul Kitchen, the forerunner to her café in Zurich.
‘One day, my mother and I looked at one another and realised that now was the time to go back to Zurich – to go back home.’
She ran Sue’s Soul Kitchen with her mother for eight years in one of Frankfurt’s business districts. Sue’s lunch menu was praised to the skies by bloggers and food critics. Eventually, the entire city had passed through her doors for a bite to eat. ‘Sue’s Soul Kitchen became bigger and bigger. And that meant more stress. One day, my mother and I looked at one another and realised that now was the time to go back to Zurich – to go back home.’ Sue sold the business in Frankfurt and took a year off. By the way, Sue’s mother assists her in Zurich too: she chops the vegetables twice a week.
‘In Frankfurt, I realised I’m not cut out to pursue a career,’ says Sue. Even though her spot in Zurich is becoming increasingly popular, she wants to keep Sue’s Kitchen small. That means there are no plans to open a second location, take on employees or extend the opening hours. ‘Money is really not important to me. Time is much more valuable.’
Sue’s rental contract is set to expire in a year’s time. What will happen after that? ‘Ah, I’ll take things as they come,’ says the chef in a relaxed tone. ‘In all honesty, it’s my dream to have my own food truck. Then I could cruise around the whole city,’ she says with a smile. I smile back. Sue’s contentment and warmth are infectious. And Sue’s Kitchen is much more than just hearty food. It’s a place that brings the neighbourhood together.