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In Thong Sala, just by the roundabout from the main pier stands a big orange building which houses the wonderful Sweet Cafe and it’s equally wonderful owner Irene. Sweet Cafe is the only bakery with a baker who cannot read or write, she works with numbers and is helped by her husband with translations, Irene is very proud of her and what she is able to do is amazing!
Leo Beer received a warm invitation by Irene to stop by for a visit so we at Phanganist tagged along for our afternoon coffee and a chat…
Hi Irene so tell us your own Koh Phangan story…
I am originally from Serbia but was brought up in Germany, I was a physiotherapist for 32 years but was diagnosed with a rare disease meaning that I could no longer do my profession. With 32 years in one direction it meant I was not very flexible, I could only do my physio a little and a bit of kitchen work.
I had to think of something so I went travelling around the world looking for a place and an idea of what to do. As a physio before I am used to watching people and I can’t stop, I have already noticed that you are a left hander!
So to cut a long story short I came with my friend here, I have three children who were already adults so that was not a problem. I said I would never come to Thailand but here I am!
When I was here this building was not finished, I was shown places in the middle of the jungle but I knew they weren’t for me but I saw this place and thought that looks good, in one hour I had signed the contract which in fact was quite extraordinary for me especially as I was to start up a business I had never been in before!
When you got the building did you know you wanted a cafe?
Not when I signed the contract but I had to decide quickly so we knew what to do inside. I can cook and bake so I thought why not do a German bakery as I was missing German bread.
Although there is a difference cooking at home or for children to this, it was a bit challenging but we made it!
What kinds of food do you do here?
We do typical German bread, sandwiches, baguettes, pretzels, panini's and the French styles like croissants.
We have regular cakes like cream cheese, brownies and apple crumble and loaves of bread. A lot of the ingredients come from Germany so they are good quality. I also offer many different breakfasts!!
What makes German Bakeries so famous?
You can compare it with the Thais knowing the difference of their rice. German, Austrian and Swiss people grow up with bread so know the difference of quality.
As a physio I know that on your tongue, different traits go up to the brain and give a certain taste, a taste like home. When something is delicious it is like smelling a food and your mouth waters, your brain gives you this information.
German bakeries are famous as they like to try different recipes, there are more than 200 different types of bread.
You have recently made a wedding cake, is this something you often do?
This is now the 4th vintage style wedding cake we have done. We do a lot of birthday cakes, people come and show me what they want.
We had a wedding cake to do where the wedding colour was turquoise, you can’t buy this edible colour so we had to mix it and everything had to be edible, we had to roll 200 decorations, that really was something!
Irene you told me you love making cakes but not eating them, if you had to choose something though what would be your favourite?
If it’s a cake then I would say the cream cheese one as it is not too sweet, just with a hint of lemon, it is not so cakey.
With bread I like the pumpernickel a new gluten free bread made with millet and black natural rice, seeds and nuts. It is such a strong structure you only need a little piece but it’s delicious, with cheese it’s yummy!
Do you still like being in the centre of things here at Thong Sala Pier?
Yes I do even though it is a pity it is getting more built up. When I came here it was an open view but I understand that the whole world is changing.
This is like my screen, I see people come and go, see discussions and meet people from all different countries so it is still very interesting.
And you have a small shop here also…
It has developed in slow motion, I was going to Bali and also people would bring stuff to see if they could sell it here.
Women like to stroll and look so we have clothes and earrings, stuff that fits with the style here. I am not the modern style, it’s more a mix of things as I want to make people feel welcome.
What do you enjoy to do on Phangan?
I love to go for a swim, I like big pools. Thong Nai Pan for deeper and cooler water. I am not a party person although I did do it all when I was young and I enjoy to see young people having fun.
I like Sea Flower Resort near Sri Thanu, it’s the perfect place to lay down or sit and read a book with good food in a very special place.
Do you think you will stay here now?
I know I want to go back to Germany, I want to give the cafe to the new generation. I have not done a bad job myself but feel now it is time to give it to someone younger.
I have found someone who is willing to try, a lovely young woman who already works for me. My time here has been interesting, colourful, funny and sad, all the right colours and I don’t regret it.
I didn’t become rich but I have had a good life full of work, I don’t want to miss it but I will go with a smile on my face rather than being fed up.
And do you have a life philosophy?
I have learnt that if you have got the chance to realise a dream then just go ahead and do it. You will then figure out that a dream is also a reality in life so you have to figure out the pleasure in it so you can enjoy it double.
It’s very important to keep going and not to stop because of problems, these are not problems but solutions you have not yet found.
Sweet Cafe is the perfect place for afternoon coffee and cake or lunch, stop off to relax after a long (or short) boat journey and enjoy the calm comfort of the bakery and watch the interesting people go by.
We wish lovely Irene all the best for the future!