The story of Lakrids by Johan Bülow
Once upon a time in 2007 in the town of Svaneke on the small Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, there was a man of twenty-three by the name of Johan. His mother had raised him to create something, not just something to make a living from, but something created from the heart. There was no doubt in Johan’s mind. He loved liquorice and was convinced that a whole new world of pleasure lay hidden inside the crude and fibrous liquorice root. Liquorice could not only be used in sweets, but also in savoury dishes, baked goods, beer – actually this fine spice flourishes in many forms of food and drink. Johan dreamt of elevating liquorice to the level of a gourmet experience. Johan imagined himself stirring the pot of boiling liquorice and letting people smell and taste his creations while watching the manual production. Johan’s vision was to share the magical qualities of the mighty liquorice root and combined it with carefully selected ingredients to create this natural delight that everyone can indulge in.
Digging out the roots proved difficult
Johan had long wondered why no one else had yet become aware of the magical properties of the liquorice root. The reason soon became clear. Johan borrowed some space in his mother’s kitchen and together with his loyal lady Sarah, did a lot of online research and they threw themselves into a number of experiments. Time and time again they had to admit that the taste of the recipes proposed by the search engine had little to do with fine liquorice. The descriptions of how to clean up after production were accurate, however. The sticky mass only vanishes after five to six hours of hard scrubbing with soap and water. Sarah and Johan continued to do research and found interesting candy books from England that sell for thousands of Danish kroner. Those recipes were not successful either. Sarah and Johan made calls to all of the major manufacturers of liquorice and requested assistance. They were turned down. Recipes for liquorice seem to be among this world’s best kept secrets. At one point Sarah managed to get what appeared to be a recipe from a product manager, but the proportions were not suitable for preparing it in a simple kitchen pot on a stove. Sarah and Johan continued their search and worked intensively twelve hours every day. At times it was difficult to keep up the faith and positive spirit. Time was running out. The idea was that liquorice cookery and shop should open in time for the tourist season on Bornholm. The logo “Lakrids by Johan Bülow”, the bags and the description of the gourmet experience were all ready, but the liquorice was still far from ready to present to the public.
Candid about candy
At one point their faith in the magic of liquorice had faded so much that they began to cook traditional candy. Then Johan’s six year old brother entered the kitchen. He quickly tuned in to the hopeless atmosphere and challenged his older brother. “What about it, Johan? Are you going to give up?” That was a turning point. The early candy making experiments were tossed out and never talked about again. Love for liquorice, persistence and dedication eventually prevailed and we have been moving forward ever since.
From Sydney to Svaneke
Further research led the liquorice lovers to a liquorice factory in Sydney that produces liquorice made from spelt flour. That was fully in line with the spirit of Johan’s mission to use only sound, natural ingredients. Johan immediately wrote an email to the owner. There was no reply. Johan wrote again. Twelve hours later came the reply: “How much do you need to make and what is the budget?” At last he had found someone who took the project seriously and who understood the concept of small pot production. The two corresponded over a period of three to four weeks and many ideas and opinions about ingredients were exchanged. In the end the Australian made a quick decision and flew to Bornholm accompanied by his wife. Johan felt blessed to have found the right guide at last and felt like a sorcerer’s apprentice.
The pot from Chicago
The Australian was a gifted mentor in Johan’s pursuit of creating exceptional organic liquorice. It was also through him that they located a suitable pot that could hold 10 kilos all the way from Chicago. The stainless steel pot was originally intended for toffee, and the engine had to be rebuilt because the stirrer was not sturdy enough for the dense liquorice mass. When the steel cooking pot arrived, production was moved from Johan’s mother’s kitchen and relocated to a shop on “Glastorvet” in Svaneke. Now they were ready. The Australian was used to cooking 500 kg of liquorice an hour, and producing the 10 kg that Johan’s pot could hold was a drastic reduction. Although he made a valiant effort, the Australian was unable to assist in the way that was necessary. The small scale liquorice production did not succeed and the small cookery had to more or less go back to square one.
At the darkest hour, angels of light
Like an angel sent from heaven, Tage suddenly appeared. Tage had worked with liquorice in the past and had heard about the two young people on Bornholm, who had not yet been able to figure out its secrets. Tage arrived with a colleague named Wolf and four buckets full of ingredients. Then things really got cooking. Tage was the master of ingredients and Wolf was the expert in cooking techniques. He could pat the 125 degree hot liquorice mass and instantly tell whether it was done or not. Wolf is short and gray haired with black teeth from the many cigars and the large quantities of coffee that fuel him while he works. For three weekends in a row Tage and Wolf worked hard together with Sarah and Johan. And when they left the two young people worked all day every day, covered with a layer of blood, sweat, tears and liquorice. Johan had never learned so much in such a short time. Burning with passion that was impossible to put out, they finally succeeded with the first recipe for Lakrids by Johan Bülow; which was made with gluten free rice flour. Shortly afterwards, three other varieties were ready: sweet liquorice, liquorice with ginger and liquorice with chilli.
07.07.2007 Grand Opening
It took four long days of production to fill the shelves in the shop on “Glastorvet” in Svaneke. On 7 July 2007 the doors opened at 10:00. By 12:30 everything was sold out and not one single piece was left on the shelves. There was a mixture of laughter and tears. How could they possibly fully stock the shelves for the following day? Some very tough days followed. The pot was hot 18-19 hours a day and every single day every bit of liquorice was sold. The joy of creating something completely new was great. They succeeded in establishing liquorice production at a gourmet level. When the summer was over and the tourists had left, Sarah and Johan were rewarded with success and money in the bank. But a question remained: “Now what?” Over the summer more than fifty people had contacted them, wanting to sell Johan’s liquorice in their own shops. Someone from Kolding even wanted to buy 200,000 units. Johan had lost 10 kilos from working such long hours and really needed some time off. But after sleeping late two days in a row, it was clear that the only thing to do was to scale up their production.
Spending a million in Manchester
In Manchester there is a machine manufacturer with more than 100 years of experience making machines for liquorice production. Johan wrote explaining his intention to buy a machine that was able to produce 100 kg of liquorice an hour. Eventually Johan went to Manchester with butterflies in his stomach. At the age of only twenty-three and with the prospect of having to negotiate a contract for a machine worth more than a million DKK, and not having that amount in his bank account, he was concerned that the trip might be in vain. Happily everything turned out well and Johan was blessed with some extra good fortune. Just as he was about to pay for the machine, the British pound dropped and he saved 250.000 DKK, the very amount required to complete the production facilities.
Loose screws in Taastrup
While the purchase of the new machine and the development of new types of liquorice were in progress, Johan found new facilities in Taastrup, a town on the outskirts of Copenhagen near the airport. An engineer from England accompanied the machine arrived to Taastrup and assisted for two weeks until the production was up and running. In the meantime Johan employed his friends Kim and Mads, whose motto is “Everything is possible and we are always at your service.” It was not until the engineer left and Johan was on his own that he fully realised the scale of what he had started. Every glitch a machine could get, it got. Johan lost count of the number of times the machine had to be completely dismantled and reassembled, as well as the many times after the machine had been put back together he was left standing there with a few screws in his hand, not knowing where they belonged. Eventually everything came together. In the summer of 2008 production began with sticks of liquorice in the same pot that had been the source of the success of the 2007season. Johan poured his heart and soul into producing masses of liquorice at the factory in Taastrup. The first one ready was the sweet kind, next came the salty and eventually all of the flavours that are available today.
Next step in Hvidovre 2013
The LAKRIDS team moved offices, warehouse and the original machine into a new 3.500 m2 facility in Hvidovre, close to Copenhagen by June 2013. Now with showroom, showkitchen, test shop and space enough to develop and build the future of LAKRIDS by Johan Bülow. If Johan had continued to roll out the liquorice on the table and cut the sticks into pieces with a pizza cutter as he did in the beginning, Lakrids would never have become the success story that it is now. Stay tuned to find out what will happen next in Johan’s adventure.
Tage and friends
When Tage first entered the picture, he played the role of Johan’s guardian angel. Today Tage is the almighty production manager at Lakrids by Johan Bülow and still has the role as the company’s Mr. Fixit. Friends Kim and Mads are still on the team and are still indispensable for the daily operations in Taastrup.
Sarah and Johan…
Sarah Askari worked with great dedication during the first five hard months of the company’s start up phase. Her significance for Lakrids by Johan Bülow will continue until the end. Sarah attained a special status on 23June 2012 when she gave birth to the first heiress of Lakrids by Johan Bülow, Miss Eleanor Askari Bülow. Sarah and Eleanor gave Johan a new title – father.
Lakrids by Johan Bülow in Denmark and abroad
In Denmark Lakrids by Johan Bülow is sold at specialty stores, such as wine shops, designer boutiques and selected hotels – places where quality content and design have priority. In addition Lakrids by Johan Bülow has four fully-owned shops, in Magasin on Kongens Nytorv, Lyngby, Odense, Århus in Svaneke on Bornholm, in Tivoli Gardens and it Copenhagen Airport Kastrup Terminal 2. In London Lakrids by Johan Bülow products garnish the shelves in the reputable Harvey Nichols deli department, Fortnum & Masons and in New York all of our products are on display at Chelsea Market Basket.
The future of liquorice
At present we share our love for liquorice with the good people in Sweden, Spain, Italy, Norway, Finland, Germany, Iceland and Dubai. In Johan’s opinion, too much of the world is still missing out. His vision for the company is to spread his love for liquorice around the globe. Not only the sweet kind, not only the salty one, but the whole spectrum of flavours that can be achieved when using liquorice as a spice.