A former British army officer has followed his childhood dream to open a Scandinavian café using his great-grandmother’s precious recipes. Jenni Moulson went along to Baltzersens.
Three years ago Paul Rawlinson was serving his country as a British army officer in Afghanistan.
Today he can be found in a very different environment, dishing up his great-grandmother’s Scandinavian recipes in his self-created Nordic café in Harrogate.
When Paul married his wife Katie, a dietician, in 2011 he decided to leave the army for a more settled life in Harrogate.
He began looking for a job but because he had already started planning his café he found himself talking about his own business ideas at interview instead of focusing on the role he was applying for.
“Unsurprisingly I wasn’t having any luck on the job front so I set about making the café a reality instead,” Paul recalls. The electronic engineer and former military captain, who trained at Sandhurst alongside Prince William, spent nearly two years planning every last detail of the project before Baltzersen’s finally opened its doors a year ago.
“The engineer in me made sure every element – from the Scandinavian menu to the café’s location on one of Harrogate’s busiest shopping streets – had been analysed and evaluated thoroughly,” explains Paul.
Despite his lack of catering experience, Paul was motivated by a desire to create a little corner of the Norway that had been so influential in his upbringing. He managed to find a vacant site on Oxford Street in Harrogate
He used his grandmother Liv’s maiden name, Baltzersen, because it conjured up the tastes and smells of his grandparents’ kitchen.
“When I was growing up in the UK I took the essentials of a Scandinavian lifestyle for granted. I just assumed everyone lived like we did, so when my father used to make waffles for every kid on the street on a Sunday afternoon and invite them into our kitchen to eat with us I thought that was the norm.
“It was only later that I started to appreciate the things that make the Nordic way of life so appealing – family, food, health and the simplicity that underlies Scandinavian design.”
Paul set about sourcing Yorkshire suppliers to help him recreate the flavours of his childhood.
“Quality and provenance are hugely important in Norway and that’s become the case in this country too. It’s also great to know our success is contributing to the growth of other Yorkshire businesses and I’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve had from the people we work with.”
Armed with his great-grandmother’s recipe book he sought out local businesses to provide him with the ingredients he needed.
Their best-selling cinnamon buns are made using free-range eggs from Ian Taylor in Burton Leonard and single origin cinnamon sourced by Asharun spices in Harrogate. The on-site bakery turns out more than 500 a week.
“Nothing says Scandinavia like a cinnamon bun so getting this particular recipe right was an absolute necessity. We make them from scratch every morning and watch to see how quickly they disappear.”
Skolebrød or “School Bread” is another favourite with café customers. Paul uses a sweet enriched dough flavoured with cardamom and adds a custard centre and icing with a dusting of desiccated coconut on top. Other popular dishes are his hot meatball sandwich, served on rye bread with melted Jarlsberg cheese and gravlaks – home-cured salmon – sandwich.
“My dad comes to help in the kitchen occasionally and he’s delighted we’ve revived the waffles he was famous for. We make them to my great-grandmother’s recipe and serve them with a generous helping of jam and cream.”
Everything except the bread used in his sandwiches is baked daily on site in the large downstairs kitchen, one of several surprising features of this former retail outlet.
“People are often taken by surprise when they walk in for the first time because the frontage is small but we’ve opened the space out at the back of the building with large armchairs and sofas where people can chill out and relax.
“What most people don’t know is that there’s a hive of activity downstairs as well which is where where we have our main baking kitchen.”
Bespoke illustrations on the walls and coat hooks adorned with original chunky Scandi sweaters and cardigans knitted by Grandma Liv help to create a feeling of having stepped inside a cosy Nordic lodge.
The whole project has been self funded with a little help from Paul’s family.
“Despite feeling that I’d drawn up a watertight business plan, the banks didn’t want to know and I had no option but to go it alone and raise the cash from my own savings and with support from my family. I suppose café and restaurant businesses have a reputation for disappearing as quickly as they opened but I think we have managed to prove that we have something unique and appealing here.”
Paul attributes a large part of the success of Baltzersen’s to his team. Finnish head chef Anna Schavikin-Parry was his first employee and helped him develop the menu.
“Anna is highly experienced and worked as a chef in Scotland, Cambridge and Harrogate before joining Baltzersen’s. She’d often thought herself about opening somewhere that offered Nordic cuisine because, like me, she understood its potential for the UK market so her ideas and enthusiasm have been hugely influential.”
In less than a year Baltzersen’s has gained a reputation for Scandinavian delicacies that extends well beyond Harrogate.
Ten thousand cinnamon buns later...
The inspiration for the recipes comes from Paul Rawlinson’s great-grandmother’s recipe book, which is hand-written in Norwegian and dates from 1919.
It’s a treasured family heirloom and the secret behind many of the dishes on the Baltzersen’s menu.
Baltzersen’s has sold over 10,000 of its Scandinavian cinnamon buns since opening its doors on October 1 last year. If they were stacked up they would be higher than the Empire State building.
More than 3,000 customers have ordered the café’s best-selling Hot Meatball Sandwich.
Baltzersen’s has so far made its way through 12,000 litres of milk and a tonne of coffee.
“The business’s strapline ‘Yorkshire Sourced – Scandinavian Inspired’ sums up the ideas I set out with and I’m delighted that my customers have embraced my efforts to bring a little bit of my own Norwegian heritage to Harrogate,” says Paul.
For more information visit www.baltzersens.co.uk