For Thomas Brausse, 44, the world of work is very different now from how it was before the financial crisis struck. Brausse, who has a shaved head and broad shoulders, used to be a high-powered banker in Germany's financial center Frankfurt. Now he runs a snack bar not far from his old office.
Sometimes one of his former colleagues walks past without saying hello. Brausse used to chat with him a lot, he says. But the man's coldness doesn't bother him. "I don't let stuff like that get to me," he says. And most of the bankers he knows from the old days enjoy coming to see him -- to fill their bellies.
And more and more of them come every day. By noon they are waiting patiently in line. Once they have their orders, they sit contentedly in their dark suits on the wooden benches in front of Brausse's 11-meter-long (36-feet) lunch truck, happily eating sausages and French fries from white cardboard plates. Brausse clearly has an eye for a market niche: For the last few weeks he's been selling products that had previously not been available in the neighborhood around Frankfurt's Messeturm skyscraper, namely really good sausages and French fries.
The business idea was obvious: Brausse himself had craved a hearty lunch often enough when he worked as a banker, conducting transactions worth billions in a securities trading firm on the 20th floor of the huge office building.
Now Brausse sits in the sun in front of his new lunch truck. He's wearing jeans, sneakers and a white T-shirt and his sunglasses are pushed back on his head. His current job is "much more real" than the financial industry, he says philosophically. "It's much more tangible," he says. "You give something to the customer and you get something in return." According to Brausse, there's no comparison with the long hours of work on the computer and phone, where so much is done virtually. Many former colleagues have told him recently that they have also thought about giving it all up, Brausse says, looking relaxed.
Tricks of the Trade
But when he lost his job it hit him hard. His former employer, the US trading platform Instinet, decided to close its Frankfurt office practically without warning. In the morning he went innocently to work, Brausse recalls. At 11 a.m., an e-mail arrived in his in-box with a request to make sure he was in the office at 2 p.m. By the afternoon he was out of a job -- right in the middle of the economic crisis.
Brausse is a mountain of a man. As a teenager he wanted to become a professional handball player. But the shock of being laid off was devastating, he says. He felt like a veteran heavyweight boxer who suddenly receives a heavy blow: "For a moment you wonder if you should just let down your fists and simply fall over."
But Brausse quickly overcame the setback. He didn't want to leave Frankfurt; both his daughters, who are aged 12 and 14, live in the city. But a job in the financial sector seemed unattainable given the current situation. The idea of the snack bar had already been floating around his head for a long time. "I really wanted to develop a second source of income," Brausse says. He had the number of the owner of the property where his lunch truck is now situated sitting in his desk drawer. The piece of paper was the only thing he took with him when he left the office.
Admittedly the former banker didn't know much about grilling sausages. But he had a good friend in the restaurant business, who gave him tips about purchasing supplies and explained the tricks of the day-to-day business. Half a year later, Brausse's lunch truck was ready to open. Naturally the snack bar is somewhat more refined than the average street-food joint -- after all, his business is aimed at a select group of customers. Wooden benches and tables stand on a stylish wooden platform, protected from the sun by large umbrellas made of a dark blue fabric. The bus, which Brausse bought on the auction Web site eBay, is clad in aluminum on the side where he serves.
Stock Market for Sausages
Brausse feels happy in his new role, he says, admitting that he never really felt like a real banker. He began an apprenticeship at the age of 16. It was a purely rational decision and one heavily influenced by his mother, he says. He tried out all the different departments in the bank, he recalls, but only the securities business seemed halfway interesting to him. That was the start of a career with various brokers and an investment bank.
Brausse doesn't deny that he had fun at times. But he hated the office politics which are part of the job in many companies. Neither was he keen on having to wear a suit. He kept one in his locker for emergencies, but otherwise insisted on wearing jeans and a shirt -- to the annoyance of his boss. "I extended Casual Friday to the whole week," he says with a grin.
But Brausse isn't quite as relaxed about his new life as a sausage seller as it might seem at first glance. As a banker he had a six-figure salary. Although he doesn't expect to make that much with his lunch truck, he does want to make "a decent profit." After all, he needs to support himself and his two children and he doesn't want to give up his nice apartment or his car.
Hence the project, in which €50,000 seed capital is invested, is based on a meticulous business plan. Brausse plans to be turning a profit by January. And, in a bid to lend a bit of zing to the business, Brausse plans to turn the Worschtbörse, "Sausage Stock Exchange" -- as his lunch truck is called -- into a real stock market for fast food. He plans to introduce "Dax" and "Nikkei" sausages whose prices rise or fall depending on how the stock market indices in question are performing.
If his business idea fails, Brausse doesn't have a plan B. But whatever happens, his natural cool-headed disposition, which probably helped him become a successful stock broker, will stand him in good stead. "Pressure doesn't bother me," says Brausse confidently. "It only makes me better."