Entrepreneur Dreams of Big Burger Business

OPPORTUNITY is only supposed to knock once, but at No. 7 Gross Kleiner Weg it knocks every day. The occupants of this simple house are almost single-handedly kindling an entrepreneurial spirit in their town on the East German coast. ``The town keeps sending everyone to us for advice,'' says Kerstin Drenkhahn.

She and her husband J"org are one of the few Warnem"unders with any kind of experience in private enterprise.

Seven years ago, they started a small hamburger and hot-dog stand, which the state tried to thwart. With tourism exploding on the East German coast and the market economy on its way, they want to expand to a chain of 31 stands and restaurants.

But reality hasn't yet caught up with the couple's dreams. The Drenkhahns must still conduct a lot of their business the ``old way.'' In the living room, J"org is talking French fries with a friend who works in agriculture. Can his friend find a way to supply him with more potatoes? In a country where supply hasn't yet been freed up, connections still count for a lot.

And try doing this work without a telephone. While Kerstin manages the four stands they have now, J"org is busy planning the expansion - plus keeping up his political life (he was running for town council at the time) and keeping a hand in the local chamber of commerce (which he founded this year.) Ten minutes can't pass without someone dropping by.

His latest concern is not only potatoes, but water and electricity hookups for his burgeoning business. But the town authorities aren't cooperative.

``People here don't really understand the idea of a market economy,'' J"org says. They don't understand that it involves service, for instance, or choice.

His father, Hans, throws in his thoughts. ``They think competition means lowering your price. If one guy is selling cabbage for 60 pfennigs, the newcomer is bound to sell it for 50 pfennigs,'' he laughs. ``Before long, they'll both be out of business!''

How can the Drenkhahns be so sure Warnem"unde can support 31 stands and restaurants?

``I know from my experience,'' says J"org, with a sense of expertise. ``I've done my market research and I know how many stands a kilometer will bear.''

Time, of course, will tell. In any case, J"org doesn't want to own all 31 eateries, he just wants a stake in them.

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