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Bringing German Flavor to China
A baker fulfills his childhood dream
By Pan Jianing & Liu Jia | NO. 15 APRIL 12, 2018

Alex Morgan at his bakery on March 15 (PAN JIANING)

If Alex Morgan had not traveled to Beijing for the Summer Olympic Games in 2008, he could never have imagined his childhood dream coming true in China, far away from Oldenburg, his hometown in Germany.

"The global financial crisis swept over every corner in Europe, including the hotel industry," said Alex, who worked for a hotel company in London at the time. "I went to Beijing for relaxation, never thinking of settling down in China."

Invited by two Chinese college friends, Alex set foot in China for the first time in 2008. During his six-week stay, he was astonished by the country's amazing development and the abundant opportunities it afforded, and made up his mind to seek a new life there.

After the Olympics, he quit his job in London and flew to Beijing. "Coming to China is one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life," Alex, 42, told Beijing Review.

A childhood dream

Six months after working with a German company in Beijing, Alex was transferred to Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province, for a one-year cooperative project with German automaker BMW.

There, many German friends often complained about the lack of German bakeries, being forced to bring back imported bread from Beijing and Shanghai on their business trips. Alex quickly realized it was a great business opportunity and began to take action. "Running my own business has been my dream since childhood," Alex said. "I often tell my family and friends I should have come here earlier because then I would have fulfilled my business dream earlier."

In the late 1930s, before World War II, Alex's great-grandfather Bernhard Wempe ran a bakery in Oldenburg. "For German people, bread is our most traditional and beloved food as jiaozi is for the Chinese," he said. Bread is often accompanied by sausages, hams and various marmalades, according to Alex. There are more than 400 different kinds of bread including buns and sliced bread.

"The Wempe Bakery brand and its logo belong to my mum's family; it is amazing to fulfill my dream and to continue my great-grandfather's bakery business almost a century later in China," Alex exclaimed.

In 2012, several weeks before Wempe Bakery was to open, Alex flew back to Germany and during that trip, visited the Berlin Zoo. He saw the giant panda named Baobao, a diplomatic gift from China to Germany in 1980, which eats pretzels instead of fresh fruits and vegetables.

"The giant panda is the symbol of China and that must be a good omen for my bread business in China," Alex recalled cheerfully. Now Wempe has become a well-known local bakery with three branches and is also the designated supplier for several hotels such as the Hilton, Summerset, Hyatt and Kempinski.

"Chinese people choose a lucky name when they start a new business, so I did in China as the Chinese do." Alex said. He named his bakery Wan Pai, which implies good fortune in Chinese: Wan refers to 10,000 and pai means deliveries.

"Making this my base camp, I want to sell our bread to more cities and areas in China." Alex said.

A German gathering at the Wempe Bakery in 2014 (COURTESY PHOTO)

The secret of success

Alex faced great challenges after launching the bakery in 2012. "German bread is famous for its natural flavor and healthy ingredients," Alex explained. "That's why our bread is not as soft and sweet as other types."

Because of this, there were only German customers at the beginning since most Chinese people were unaccustomed to such a different flavor and texture. Some friends advised Alex to improve the taste by adding some more sugar and food additives for better sales, but Alex refused and persisted in shipping frozen bread directly from Buck-Shop, the largest bread export company in Germany.

"I had promised to provide my customers with 100 percent German bread. I had to keep my word," Alex said. His persistence and patience finally paid off. Wempe gradually drew an increasing number of local Chinese customers who valued the sugar- and additive-free qualities of his bread.

"They usually come back every two to three weeks and most of them come because it is healthy for both children and seniors," Alex told Beijing Review. "The secret of success, I think, is patience because it really took time to let customers accept my bread. As the German traditional baking principle says, 'Ohne Geduld keine guten Brötchen,' no patience, no delicious bread," Alex added.

To promote the wholesale end of the business, Alex traveled three times a week to different cities nearby, introducing his bread to local restaurants and bars. Several weeks later, his first order arrived from an imported food store in Dalian, a coastal city in Liaoning.

"It meant so much to me and led me to believe there were many potential customers in China," he said. Because of his tireless efforts, Alex successfully turned Wempe into a booming local wholesaler, providing 100 percent imported German food for restaurants and bars in more than 30 cities and regions nationwide, including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Harbin and Hong Kong.

The construction of the China-Germany Equipment Manufacturing Industrial Park in Shenyang was approved by the State Council in 2015. Designed to become an international manufacturing hub by 2025, it has drawn hundreds of German expats to work and live there.

"Now everything is easy with WeChat [China's most popular messaging app] and Alipay [China's largest mobile payment platform]," said Alex, who handles everything with the help of these apps, from receiving orders, sending photos of sample bread and arranging deliveries to money transfers. "My business has successfully upgraded to We-business."

Taking root in China

Alex was not only successful in business, he also found his true love in China. Alex first met his wife in 2009 when she applied for a manager position with the German company Alex worked for. At that time, Alex was the interviewer. "She was sincere, warm-hearted and of course charming and impressed me a great deal during the interview," he said.

They became friends and helped each other with language learning, and eventually fell in love and finally married in 2013. Their daughter was born in 2014. "My wife helped me a lot. She stayed at home for three years to take care of our daughter and support my business. I appreciate her so much," Alex said.

After his daughter was born, Alex began to spend more time with his family. "Every morning, I would get my daughter ready and send her off to kindergarten before I left for work," he said.

Alex holds a different view of education from most Chinese parents, who he feels spare no effort to provide their children with the best educational resources. "Studying well, of course, is important, but being confident and creative is crucial," Alex said . "Nevertheless, we still plan to provide our daughter with the basic education here, especially Chinese language and math skills."

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com

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