Having perfected their concept of international comfort food from fried chicken burgers & Philly cheesesteaks to Tikka Masala curries & superfood bowls, Muse serve consistently-tasty casual dishes for lunch and dinner. But what most customers might not know is the restaurant is a success story born from the popularity of their previous supperclub! We caught up with co-owner and head chef Caroline Grinsted to find out how she managed to go from amateur homecook to professional restauranteur…
Going back to the start, what made you want to start doing supperclubs in the first place?
I love to cook, Tobias loves to host and serve wine. We didn’t know anyone in Berlin when we moved here, so we thought: “why not cook for strangers, and perhaps we’ll make some friends as well!”
And what were you doing as a job at the time?
At that time, I was working in Controlling, but my professional background is in events. Tobias was a freelancer, doing mainly websites, interiors, rebranding and corporate design.
It’s quite a leap to go from doing occasional supperclubs to running a restaurant – what were the driving factors behind this decision?
I was working on a fixed-term contract, so I already knew I needed to look for something new.
Simultaneously, the success of the supperclub – supposedly our hobby! – had bowled us over, and we couldn’t keep up with the demand. And we’d heard through the grapevine that a location close to home was about to become available. It just made sense to put to the three things together.
As an amateur cook, what were some of the processes that were steep learning curves being in a professional kitchen and operating an on-demand restaurant service rather than serving everything at once in a supperclub?
From the supperclub and observation of caterers when I worked in event, I already had a fairly good idea of the necessity of prepping as much as possible.
The thing I found hardest at the start was estimating how much to order and prepare. On the first day I was in charge of the kitchen, we were expecting around 20 customers, we prepped for around 50 to be on the safe side. Almost 100 guests walked through the doors on that day…
We sent the dishwasher to run to the baker to buy more bread, one of the waitresses ducked into the kitchen to help out chopping vegetables as I scrambled to put the dishes together and prepare more stock items simultaneously. Meanwhile, Tobias was keeping the guests happy during the long wait with free drinks – we were lucky to have a friendly crowd with patience!
I probably learned more in that one shift than in the rest of the five years put together.
You found quite a large space for the restaurant, in Prenzlauer Berg. Were you always interested in this area and having a large restaurant or did you consider other options?
The location of the place itself – so close to our home – was one of the things that decided us to run a restaurant in the first place. I think we would have preferred somewhere a bit smaller, but we did look around for other options as well, and we didn’t find anything else in the area that we liked at all.
One of the things we love about MUSE besides the food is the layout and vibe of the interior – it’s casual and cosy, with different rooms, each with a unique feel. How did you go about the design process?
We loved the feel of the different rooms, because it suggests something more personal.
It was very important to us to keep the feel of a home – we wanted the impression to be that you were walking into a friend’s living room. Tobias is an artist, designer, and amateur carpenter, so he built the furniture himself, and thought of all the little touches. And of course, most of the artwork in Muse are his paintings.
Your menu focuses on international comfort food. Was this a business decision seeing a gap in the Berlin market or a personal choice based on your favourite style of cooking?
A bit of both, really.
At the time, there didn’t seem to be any restaurants in Berlin offering the kind of food we like to eat. I suppose we opened the restaurant we would have loved to have in our neighbourhood!
For fellow aspiring restaurateurs, what’s it like working with a husband/partner?
Of course there have been arguments about the best way to do things, but we are both trying to realise the same dream, and we respect each others’ areas of expertise. It helps a lot that there is a clear separation of duties: Tobias is the undisputed decision-maker for the front of house; the kitchen is my territory.
The overwhelmingly positive thing about working together is that we both “get it”. During the first couple of years, we were both working crazy-stupid hours and we didn’t have a lot of time for each other.
That was far from ideal, but I honestly think it would have been harder on the relationship if only one of us had that pressure, because the other would have felt so neglected and would not have been able to understand why.
What’s your favourite item on the menu at the moment and why?
Ha, it changes every week! For sheer indulgent comfort, I keep coming back to our Philly Cheesesteak sandwich, especially at the weekends when you can have it with a fried egg on top. But right now, I am also craving our autumn / winter waffles with pumpkin, bacon and maple syrup. Or the salad with cauliflower, carrots and chickpeas.
Tobias says I have to throw in a word for his favourite as well: the steaks on the evening menu.
How do you imagine running a restaurant differs in Berlin, compared to other capital cities?
I have never run a restaurant anywhere else, so I can’t really judge. But it is my impression that it is easier here to get started on a small budget. The bureaucracy is formidable, though. There is always one more Amt that needs to rubber-stamp the paperwork.
What were the biggest challenges in setting up Muse as a restaurant?
Definitely the frustration of being at the mercy of things outside your control. There is always something that goes wrong! Equipment breaking, power outages, the extractor fan breaks down… Any one tiny thing that stops working throws a spanner in the entire works.
What advice would you give to aspiring restaurateurs?
Be prepared that it will take over your life. And don’t expect to get rich. I can’t think of a single good place I know that is not primarily a labour of love for someone.
How do you feel the Berlin restaurant scene has changed over the past couple of years and what trends do you forecast us seeing?
Well, we are far from being the only comfort food place in Berlin now! I think that has massively changed, there are a lot more good, mid-range places these days – like what the British call “gastro-pubs”. We don’t call ourselves that, but Muse certainly fits within that family.
I think the trend for vegan food is here to stay, and I expect to see it growing. I hope to see it becoming more divorced from the dubious “clean-eating” trend, and focusing more on food-for-pleasure, but I may be fighting a losing battle…
Where do you yourself like to eat/drink/relax in Berlin?
Cordobar has always been very good, if busy; I am interested to see how they’ll develop through the current renovation and reopening.
And I recently visited Shiori for the first time, and enjoyed it very much.
For drinking, the beer garden am Neuen See is a lovely summer location, or Becketts Kopf for late night cocktails.
Finish the following sentence: “For me, Berlin, is…”
… a city of contradictions. It seems kind of ugly, but then there are all these beautiful hidden courtyards. People seem uninterested or unfriendly, but they let you get on with your own thing, without judgement. It’s German to its core, but filled with immigrants. I guess I love it, that there are so few expectations of me; conversely that freedom leads me to expect greater things of myself.
Muse have really perfected their comfort food offering in cosy, comforting surroundings. Be sure to head over and check it out for yourself sometime soon!