Martin Daniali: Breaking Bread

Martin Daniali: Breaking Bread

Martin Daniali was fed up with the opaque business practices behind most chain bakeries in Denmark, so he started his own. He discusses the important role bread plays in Danish tradition and reflects on growing up with two cultures that are equally meaningful and definitive. We talk about the new political party, The Alternative, and his hope for a new political era advancing a deeper connection to the environment and food we eat.

Why did you start Brødflov Bakery?
I’ve always been interested in food. I always traveled a lot and was eating out a lot. I actually helped start a porridge company called GRØD. I was starting up this porridge shop with a friend of mine, and after a while, I wanted to make something new. 

There is a tradition that bread is a fundamental thing in the houses of Danish people. There’s a special atmosphere around baking in the Danish mindset.

You go Saturday morning, pick it up, and bring it home to your family. But, there are too many bakeries that are big chains. There’s no contact with the bakers and to the food, so I wanted to make a place where you can see the production, meet the baker. If you have a question you just ask the baker.

Suddenly, we found out we have so many beautiful things in our country. We have grains and we can make our own things. We don’t have to get everything from Bolivia, Brazil, or America.

We have our own stock and have grain and cocoa. It’s becoming this new way of living with the organic way and green way of living that the Danish are famous for. It fits into the Danish lifestyle with bicycles and the focus on good, pure food. Everything is organic here and if we have any leftovers of food it’s compostable.
Is environmentalism personally interesting to you or just good business? 
I really like that personally, but it’s also an interesting business case. People know when they buy bread or coffee here, they give their money to a company that is thinking about the local community, delivering bread to different kinds of places like shelters. 

Grød communal table
People know when they are buying things from these companies, it’s a little bit like putting a coin into the Red Cross or something like that. I think people have more expectations of what they use their money on and what they put their money towards.

Where did you develop these principles?
For me, it’s only things that make sense. It’s chained to my values. I didn’t think so much about why I’m doing this kind of business. People are different and I don’t think one thing is bad and another thing is good. 

For me, it’s a lifestyle. There are many things that make sense to me. In the morning when the organic grocer comes in, it makes me really happy. Sometimes I sit on the other side of the street and watch people going out of the store. 

One thing that I recognized was all people were taking the product out of the bag and looking at it. Who does that when they go to the supermarket? That says a lot about it.
I want to be connected to deliverers, buyers, and the customers. It’s important for me and just makes sense. I know the owner that produces flour. It just makes sense for me when I’m standing with this in my hand and selling it to you, I know where the flour is from and who made the flour. I know who brought it here. I know who baked it. You can see it and you can smell it. I think that’s the essence of the thing that the customers want.

It’s the label, it’s the atmosphere. Like I say to all my staff, "People know it’s the last 10 percent that’s all the difference." That is a meaningful thing to me, the customers, and the staff. You have to be proud of what you’re making. That’s an important thing too.
I’m also thinking that economic growth is not growth in it of itself. You can grow in other things. We’re the consumer generation — we grow a lot of products, we’re buying and just producing more, and more, and more. That’s also a lot about what the organic movement has done. It’s not only that you’re getting pure food, but also about the idea that we should produce less at higher prices, and it’s the right thing. 

Denmark is really expensive, including salaries, so all the big companies need to be more effective. We can never be as effective as the Germans or other countries because salaries are so low there. I think it’s really interesting—the idea of just growing not only the economy but growing in other directions.

I was talking to someone who thought it was hard to stand up for things and stand out in Denmark, do you agree?
It’s funny, I really have to be honest. I’m a little tired of these entrepreneurs all talking about the Jante Law, the law that says you cannot speak too highly of yourself, that you cannot be proud of yourself. In my opinion, I think that is a great thing about the Danish way. I am totally in contrast to all the other entrepreneurs saying that though. I think it is a good quality to be humble. I think that it is a really good quality and that’s also what makes us an equal society in Denmark.

The most beautiful thing about this country is not the organic movement, but it is the equality.  

I come from an immigrant family. I don’t know if you come from rich family, but we’d still be good friends. I don’t think that would happen in other countries. That is something really beautiful about the Danish society.

As a general value, I think it’s a beautiful value. I agree when people say that the real country of possibilities isn’t America, but Denmark because of the equal way of society. 

As an immigrant growing up in Denmark, did you feel like an outsider? 
No, not really. That was a big discussion in Denmark, especially with so much talk about displacement. I think it’s a little bit misunderstood in the discussion because of course in many ways I felt outside because of the color of my skin and my hair is different. I felt outside like a Danish guy in glasses. So just the way it is for kids, how in kindergarten people are saying you are brown, or you have glasses. That’s the way it is. 

It can feel like, especially as I’ve gotten older, that I have values and I have ideas of thinking that are not Danish. I have those that come from my family too, and I love that. I have some social ways of doing things that are clearly from Persian culture and not from Danish culture. For me, it’s being respectful of other people. I’m always saying hi to people, shaking people’s hands, and always being respectful. I never sit with my back to someone. 

I love to say I’m a European. I feel like that’s a Danish thing in that way. I have two cultures.

Grød cinnamon bun

What else would you do if you weren't an entrepreneur?
Music, I love music. I love culture and art so I love to go around and explore. I would pursue music as a career—that’s also why my lifestyle is important to me. I don’t want to work like I did for the last couple of years. I’m really active in the jazz scene and there's a jazz festival I go to in Denmark every year. So I would love to start playing again. I’m just taking a break to get this thing up and then when it is running this will just be a part of my life. 

What political issues are you thinking about now? 
I think it’s the European discussion, this reaction in the European Union and England. It demonstrates how important it is for people to be educated. It’s our political responsibility to educate people and if they do that, people will vote in other ways. I’m not saying you need to vote social or liberal but you have to vote with an informed background. That’s the most dangerous thing happening in the western world I think. That uninformed people are voting. Denmark too. 

Grød customer looking at her phone

Are people more informed or less informed in Denmark? 
Less informed. It’s a really dangerous discussion because if I said, “Oh, did you read what’s in the newspaper?,” People would say, “Oh, you’re too snobby or you live in Copenhagen. You have an organic bakery and stuff like that and you want things to be greener because then you can go travel and stuff like that.” 

Your brother is active in the new Danish party, The Alternative. Tell me about that. 
It’s really interesting and they are really into the green thinking. 

They want new economic models and they want the farming industry in Denmark to be 100% organic.

And they’re just thinking a whole new way of running the economy. When they started, people were like, "They don’t have a chance and for the parliamentary election," but they went on to be a huge party. That tells a lot about this way of thinking of small growth and not only thinking in an economic way. 

Do you ever bring anything back when you travel you travel?
Always coffee beans and bags and books. I love coffee beans. I always write a little book with my girlfriend like where did we go and who did we meet, and then we give it to my friends when we meet them. We’ve actually talked about moving to San Francisco because there is a coffee roasting school that I’d like to go to for a few months. I’d really like to live in the Dog Patch

Martin Daniali behind the counter

Photography by Robiee Ziegler, unless otherwise noted. Interviews edited for flow and clarity.