Passing through the packed narrow side street in Viennaâ€™s First District is almost impossible. A large number of people are lined up in front of the restaurantâ€™s entrance waiting for a sought-after seat â€“ and the most celebrated schnitzel in town. FiglmÃ¼llerâ€™s boast: a schnitzel that is thinner and crisper than anything the competition can offer â€“ and larger than the plate on which it is served. Which is probably why the menu states: "The horizon starts where our schnitzel ends." We take a bite and realize that there's more to schnitzel than just schnitzel. The FiglmÃ¼ller variation of this culinary delight is generally made of pork tenderloin which is more tender than the ordinary cuts used for schnitzels and does not curl when fried. The meat is pounded with a mallet until it is over a foot wide in diameter. Then it is breaded â€“ exclusively with "Kaiser roll crumbs" â€“ and after that fried in light vegetable oil. Only a few schnitzels are fried in one batch. And after every round, the oil is replaced with fresh oil. The several thousand gallons of oil that the kitchen goes through every month are later processed into biofuel.
The schnitzel house is packed. From the way many of the guests scrutinize their surroundings we deduce the majority must be tourists. After all, the interior is as predictable as it is traditional: forest green walls, wooden benches and tables, each with a basket of delicious bread wrapped in a fresh white linen napkin, and old-fashioned lettering in line with the wrought-iron room partitions. Aside from one wall displaying press releases from all over the world, there is really nothing to catch your interest â€“ a fact that is entirely in keeping with the outward aspect of Thomas and Hansi FiglmÃ¼ller. Both make a relaxed impression and they do not go out of their way to draw attention to themselves. And the fact that they rate family values higher than fashionable gastro trends is clear from the beginning of our interview when Hansi FiglmÃ¼ller arrives slightly late and out of breath because his daughter has just started her first week at kindergarten.
They are the fourth generation to run the Viennese family business that looks back on over one hundred years of tradition. The strong emphasis on a single product has been a major argument for them to continue using the same strategy: to stand out, they have to be the best. And stand out they do. In part, this is due to the attention they devote to their product, but also a result of stringently upholding the values that have defined the establishment since 1905.
In our family there was no difference between work and home. Our father was always the same, whether he was an entrepreneur or simply Papa.
In the year 2002, the brothers took over the management of the company together when their father was not able to continue running the establishment due to health issues. This was not a
step they had planned. "Interestingly enough, none of our friends were surprised when we announced we were taking over the family business. We were the only ones who seemed to be a bit taken aback when it finally happened," grins Hansi. And Thomas adds: "Taking over the business was a topic that was never discussed properly. And yet the decision to sell was never seriously considered either. Somehow one thing led to another." But to say the handover went smoothly would be an exaggeration. Though neither Hansi nor Thomas FiglmÃ¼ller give the impression of being a rebel, they are separated from their father by at least one generation's worth of modern development.
FiglmÃ¼ller used to be a restaurant, not a brand.
In the past, the brand and the business structure had never been thought through, Thomas explains. "Our father is definitely 'old school'. He belongs to the war generation, and they had this 'do-it-or-die' approach. The business didn't have a proper strategy; people just did their job. And if our father gave orders to have something done, it was done because he said so." Hansi nods and adds: "Today we make and implement our decisions differently. Not always better, but maybe more quickly than back then.
Despite the changes they aspire to, the brothers insist on retaining the core values of the brand as they experienced them in their childhood.
We were taught values such as sincerity, fairness and a sense of morality. That formed us.
And that forms their business culture as well. For example, it is the brothers' intention to employ people until they are ready to retire. "In the restaurant business, employment is usually short-lived. We are trying to introduce countermeasures," Hansi explains. And Thomas adds, "We give our employees a great deal of freedom and do many things differently from what we were taught during our business administration studies. The current theory seems to be that doing good business is first and foremost a question of negotiating the best price. We prefer to build up long-term partnerships with our suppliers and have a good relationship with our employees. We don't want to squeeze the last ounce of profit out of our people. It's simply not worth it.
Quality means consistency. Better is always good, but "good" must be the yardstick.
And Thomas ends the interview with the words: "We believe that the consistency we guarantee is given back to us by the people we work with. The quality of work is simply better when nobody feels they are being stung."
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