Kurz&Lang: Why bratwurst is more than just a sausage
St John Street is home to bratwurst shop Kurz&Lang, founded by Berlin-born Valentin von Amsberg. We paid a visit, as part of our St John Street At Work series
Valentin von Amsberg was born in Berlin, studied in Frankfurt and migrated to the UK eleven years ago to work in finance, but quit his job after three years to sell sausages. He came up with the idea to sell quality “bratwurst” in the capital during a lunch break. “I was so hungry, but at that time there was nothing quick to eat in London apart from sandwiches, and everyone knows that they get pretty boring after a while,” he recalls. “I wanted something warm, something cheaper than a restaurant and something delicious. And then it came to my mind: bratwurst was the answer.”
He and his business partner Ina Zimmermann opened Kurz&Lang at 1 St John Street eight years ago. “Actually we had the idea to sell bratwurst in a mobile shop on the streets of London, but as it is nearly impossible to get a license for that in the capital, we decided to open the shop here,” he remembers. “And in the end I think it was the right decision.”
Indeed, von Amsberg says he has many loyal customers in his shop in Clerkenwell, who are willing to pay £3.95 for a bratwurst and up to £5.50 for a bottle of German beer. However, he says his product is worth the price. “Many people often ask us why our sausage is so expensive, because in the UK butchers usually produce them out of leftovers,” he says. “However, a German quality sausage like ours contains the best meat and is very complex to produce.”
Again and again, von Amsberg points out that quality is the key to his sausages, which are produced in Niederwallmenach, a small town near Frankfurt, Germany, where the farmers still know their cows by name. Indeed, Kurz&Lang’s signature product, the ’11th Generation Gourmet Wurst’, comes at £5.40 because it is produced within one hour after slaughter to avoid the spread of phosphate and other substances in the meat.
Though von Amsberg now likes nothing better than the taste of a good bratwurst, he admits that he hasn’t always been a fan. “It was in this moment, when I had the idea to open a bratwurst shop, that I felt I missed this piece of my home country’s cooking culture here in London,” he says. “However, before that I had never been a great bratwurst eater. I rather fell in love with it through my business.”
And with him, the hungry people of St John Street came to love the sausage shop near Farringdon, too. Of course, it is not only Germans, who satisfy their cravings there – but when they do, it is always a rather special experience for them, as von Amsberg describes. “It is great to see that, when Germans enter the shop for the first time, their eyes begin to shine, they smile and suddenly behave as if they were a child,” he says. “You can literally see the homesickness in their eyes and how a good bratwurst, potato salad and beer can mend it.”
While Valentin von Amsberg likes Germans to think of his shop as a piece of home, he did not want everyone to associate his shop with Germany in the first place. “Ina Zimmermann and me began with the concept for our business in 2006, just before the World Cup in Germany,” he says. “At that time, Germany’s reputation was still difficult and everyone always told me to not park my car, which had a German numberplate, outside or it would probably get damaged. After the World Cup, this luckily changed, but back then we thought our shop needed a name that would not immediately be identifiable as German.”
So, the name Kurz&Lang, meaning ‘short and long’ in German, is not about sausages after all? “Of course, Kurz&Lang initially refers to short and long sausages, but it is also thought as a name that everyone who wants to know it’s German can identify it as such, and everyone who does not want to, does not need to know.” And indeed, this idea of camouflaging the shop’s origin seems to work quite well. “I often get asked if I am Mr Short or Mr Long,” von Amsberg laughs. “Many people think the name is just the two surnames of the founders, like Marks and Spencer.”
The shop on the corner between St John Street and Cowcross Street has become a popular place for both residents and businessmen to get something quick and warm to eat. It is exactly this mix of people that the German owner likes about the area. “I think the St John Street area is a very vibrant, positive place,” he says. “It is the right mix between city and suburb, between residents and businessmen, between busy and cosy. St John Street unites it all: culture, work and residential area.”
Kurz&Lang already distributes products to several museum shops in London, but he has even greater plans for the future.
“At the moment, we are in contact with wholesalers, such as Waitrose, as we plan to sell our sausages to a wider range of customers in supermarkets,” he explains. “The packaging is in production right now, so this will hopefully happen very soon. I want the Kurz&Lang quality bratwurst to become the sausage for the UK.”
More about the shops and businesses on St John Street in our series: St John Street At Work