Interview: Sweethearts Berlin with Kate, Ruth & Isa

©Rebecca Crawford

Sweethearts Berlin is a brunch and breakfast restaurant in Berlin-Neukölln, founded by three passionate coffee and food lovers: Kate Bailey, Ruth Bartlett, and Isa Jehle

Kate Bailey, Ruth Bartlett, and Isa Jehle are the trio behind the recently opened Sweethearts Berlin, a brunch and breakfast restaurant in Neukölln. When I went to visit the place for the first time, I was impressed by their love of detail, the heartwarming service, the advanced take on food (there was a “Gabrielle Hamilton” dish on the menu, inspired by the namesake chef), and the Brooklyn-like spirit that permeated the venue as their friends and new guests crowded the place during the opening weekend and over the ones that followed. We asked them to share their story and tell us how all of this came to life:

How did you three meet?

RB: Although there had been other previous meetings and collaborations, the three of us all got together for the first time at a Christmas party where Kate was making food, Isa was decorating, and I was taking care of the music.

What did you do before opening Sweethearts Berlin?

KB: Married to the hospitality industry since the age of 13 – while conducting concurrent affairs with writing, publishing, marketing, and behavioral science. Now focused on Little Joy (commercial prep and catering), hospitality business consulting, and, of course, Sweethearts.

RB: Did I have a job path? Interesting concept. I’ve worked extensively in 2D and 3D design, as well as hospitality. Eventually the fields came together for me.                                                    

IJ: I’m in a pretty passionate love-hate relationship with the hospitality industry and have worked in it on-and-off. It’s a relationship I’ve been in for 15 years – yeeez! My last stop was the hotel bar of Michelberger Hotel, where I met Ruth. I cheated on hospitality when I co-built the fair fashion label Folkdays – which I’ve been involved with for the last three years – and also worked as the head of finance at one of these classic Berlin tech startups. I left Folkdays last month, so now I’m focusing on being a freelancer, giving young companies some guidance with setting up their communication and finance structures and processes. Some of my current clients include the bespoke shoemaker Korbinian Ludwig Heß and the new food PR agency Sheila. Equally time-consuming is my obsession with creating the perfect Swabian Spätzle: The secret lies in a sharp wet knife, people! I’m close!

Who is taking care of which part of the project?

KB: Executive chef and restaurant operations.

RB: Creative head.

IJ: Everything business related, social media, and finances.         

What has been your most treasured moment since starting Sweethearts Berlin?

KB: The second day after we opened, I finally paused: I sat on the stage and looked out at people eating and taking pictures of their food, Ruth and Isa serving drinks, the staff talking with guests, the chefs calling orders and laughing, our barista pulling a shot – and I thought: “This space and these people, this is a privilege and I want to savor every second.”

RB: Maybe – I’m trying to single out moments from the opening days – when people came and commented on the great “feeling” in Sweethearts. For me, that’s the combination of all the hard work behind the scenes – from both us and our amazing staff – and all the elements of the business coming together harmoniously.

IJ: That evening after the first weekend when I was sitting down at home reading all of these comments on social media filled with so much appreciation and L.O.V.E. For me, it has always been absolutely key to show full-on support for female leaders who are doing their thing, and now we’re getting so much back. Full circle, people!

What were the obstacles that you thought you’d encounter? And how did you deal with them?

KB: Believing in myself – did it anyway. Isolation from people who never could believe in what I was seeing – found two people who did. The rest was doing what I know, and that has hardly been an obstacle.

RB: Weirdly – or rightly, depending on how you look at it – there were very few obstacles that I could see. I’ve had to fight my whole career to be given the freedom to really run away with my ideas and create my best work. Isa and Kate have always given me the space and actively encouraged me to follow what I know to be best in my department for our collective vision.

IJ: Up until now, it’s really just been smooth sailing. We’ve known each other for a while, so we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Also, we had so many helping hands – even my Dad FaceTimed with us in the middle of the night and explained to us how to install a dimmer switch. But as you do, one day before the opening, I was freaking out: Oh gaaawd, what happens if nobody shows up?!?! Well, that didn’t happen.

Did you have a mentor? Or, who was your biggest inspiration to go forward with the project?

KB: Food-wise, Gabrielle Hamilton remains a pillar of strength for me – she protects simplicity. I am inspired by a feminist community called TYCI, based in Glasgow. They came into my life at a time when I needed to believe women had as much right as men to start and run businesses. Now, day-to-day, I am always so impressed with Ruth and Isa – I get giddy watching them work.

RB: Helping other people open and build their businesses taught me a lot about what and what not to do, and all kinds of nuances built up into a wealth of absorbed knowledge and a service and design language specifically for hospitality. Umm, can I say my business partners are my biggest daily inspiration, or is that too disgusting? Well, sorry, they are!

IJ: I’m proud to call Kimon Haars my dear friend and mentor. Whenever there is a business decision to make, the precious pep talks I have with him help me to distill the essence of something and make a well-balanced decision. This is one of the most important pieces of advice I’d like to give to everyone who wants to hear it: Get a mentor! Someone who sees your potential and helps you fulfill it. Cheesy, but oh so true!

Where do you want this project to be in the next five years?

KB: Still going. I am in love with it, and I want to hang out with it until I die.

RB: Oh boy! Can we get through the first six months and I’ll tell you then? We still have so many ideas to bring to the table (pun intended) – but I guess in general, I hope it will be the same, but with a cherry on top.

IJ: “Serving mean Käsespätzle* and feeling feelings since 2016 – Sweethearts Berlin” I want to see that on a sign above our counter in five years.

*(Editor’s note: for those less familiar with traditional German cuisine, Käsespätzle is an egg noodle and cheese dish, and you should absolutely try it!)

Sweethearts Berlin

Mittelweg 50
Berlin, 12053
U-bahn station: U8 Leinestraße
Mon-Sun 10am-6pm

Facebook @sweetheartsberlin

Julia co-founded one of the first fashion blogs in Germany in 2007 and became a freelance consultant for digital strategies after publishing her first book in 2010. After an eventful four years with Condé Nast working mainly in the digital department of Vogue Germany, she decided to launch her own online magazine with her dream partner, Veronika Heilbrunner. She is based in Berlin and loves to read books.