Five minutes down the road opposite Hotel Narayani is a small bakery. But if your nose is functioning, you don't need directions. Walk down that road anytime starting 7am, and you will felled by the most delicious, enticing fragrance-fresh baked bread, buns, cakes, pastries and cookies. For 23 years now this little bakery, Hermann's to those in the know, has been serving the neighbourhood and is known as the finest place for the perfect German bakery products.
German, we say. Yup: the sign says Hermann Helmers B?ckerei und Konditorei. But don't expect a haughty German baker. This has been, from the start, an all-Nepali family venture. Ashok KC was a baker doing the rounds of different hotels in Kathmandu in the mid-70's until he opened up his own little outlet in the very spot that it stands today. In 1978 Ashok decided to enhance his skills and went to Germany to train in the art of baking. Impressed by the emphasis on quality Ashok came back to Nepal determined to produce only the best, never compromising on quality. He decided to name his bakery after his boss in Bremen. And so a Kathmandu legend was born: Hermann Helmers bakery and confectioners. After that, there was no stopping Ashok. "In the old days it was all done by hand and baked in wood fire ovens. Today everything is modern. We have come a long way," says Nirmal, Ashok's oldest son, who is looking forward to celebrating the family business' 25th anniversary in 2003.
Hermann's isn't only about buttery cookies and scrumptiously chewy wholemeal bread. This is a small-enterprise with a conscience. In order to cut down on its use of plastic, Hermann's started giving its regular customer free cloth bags with the bakery's logo. Unfortunately, says Kamal, another brother, often Nepalis asked for a new bag every time they came, because they found it a hassle to carry the old one around. So now Hermann's sells the bag for Rs 45, and donates 40 percent of the sale price to a disabled children' fund. They also plan to introduce sturdy paper bags.
Ashok retired six years ago, and now his three sons Nirmal, Kamal, and Bimal run the show with a little help from their mother, Ram Maya, who is always on ahnd to greet customers in the morning. Besides learning from their father, the three brothers have also received training at the Hotel Management and Tourism Training Centre. Each has his own task-Nirmal oversees a lot, but his true passion is white bread and the perfect little cupcakes younger Hermann's customer's love. Kamal handles the pastry department, while Bimal, the youngest, makes the puffs-including the chicken puff that has been the downfall of many who work out at the gym next door. And from time to time the founder still pops in to check on quality. Nirmal and his brothers are happy that more Nepalis are eating healthy, wholegrain bread, but Nirmal stresses: "The main thing is the satisfaction you get out of it."
Between the family and nine apprentices and helpers, this little shop makes a lot of people happy-and in the process, takes in more everyday than even a good restaurant. The bakery starts selling at 7am, and by mid-afternoon most of the bread, rolls, buns and pies are gone. "But it is only 4'o clock," we overheard one customer lamenting, because the brown bread she came for was all gone. There's always tomorrow, as Hermann's devoted fans know.