Food, family, friends and faith these are the cornerstones of Uwe and Beate Kuester's lives.
BUSY COUPLE: Beate and Uwe Kuester show a selection of their handmade chocolate truffles. The Kuesters run their Chocolaterie and Patisserie Fackleman together. Along with their business, the Kuesters enjoy volunteering at the food bank and the soup kitchen. They have also recently put together a gospel group called 4 His Glory with friends Jason Farris and Beverley Richard.
The Kuesters are known to many as the creators of delicious treats for Chocolaterie and Patisserie Fackleman, though they're increasing their cooking reputation with the addition of The Schnitzel Parlour, featuring traditional German food.
As small business owners, much of their time is spent in the kitchen, but that's fine with them."We love what we're doing," says Uwe. "We are raised this way - food, friends, family comes together."
Though they consider Fredericton home, in truth they only moved to Canada eight years ago.They grew up in Frankenberg/Eder in Germany, a spot Uwe describes as being "really country.""Where we were born it was mostly farming and if your parents don't have a farm, the only solution is to go to the city." Because their parents were not farmers, the couple moved near Frankfurt to get jobs when they finished school. Before that, though, this rural community was home.
Uwe and Beate are only two years apart in age, so they truly grew up together. "Only a few metres away," says Beate. "We hated each other.-We couldn't stand each other - like cats and dogs," agrees Uwe. They have no idea why they felt that way, he says, "except she was a girl and I was a boy." That changed when they hit their teens and became friends. "Not really good friends. We had friends together, you know how that works," says Uwe. "There were only a few people our age and you have to make compromises somehow." They got to know one another through the marching band, the kids' choir and church, so they had to find a way to get along, says Beate.
After attending dancing school together, their friendship grew."When we know each other better, we say, 'oh, it's not that bad,'" says Uwe, laughing. That friendship evolved into something deeper at a party when Beate was 15 and Uwe was 17."I had another boyfriend, but after that I just kicked him," says Beate. She's not sure what happened, but says they were aware of one another in a new way. "You have that feeling in your stomach and you know it's right." Her husband agrees.
"I remember my grandmother, she always used to say when I was young, 'You will marry a girl you never could stand.' She always promised me that," he says. "So she was right." The couple got engaged when Beate was 16 and Uwe was 18, married two years after that and two years later their son, Florian, was born. "We are still married. We are 27 years married," says Uwe.
Though the family lived in Germany, they were looking for somewhere new to make their home. "We always knew that we wanted to go somewhere else," says Beate. They visited the U.S., but it didn't feel right to them. They also travelled across Europe, but didn't find their place. "One country that was close was France because of the food and the way the French people live," says Uwe. "Food and friends and family are more important than anything else."
They knew they had found what they were looking for on a visit to Canada. When they came to Fredericton to see Uwe's sister, it didn't feel like they were visiting. "It was like coming home," says Beate. They visited a few times, saw the different seasons, and in 1998 began the process of moving here.
"We got the letter from the embassy one day before Christmas in 1999. "This was the best Christmas gift we ever got," says Uwe. And by September 2000, they were moved into a home they bought in Douglas and soon after began making a name for themselves with their delicious desserts. "You give up your old life and have to start a new one," he says.
Though they have loved their life here, it has certainly had its challenges. Two years ago, for example, Uwe became quite sick. "He almost died on me three days before our 25th anniversary," says Beate. He was unable to work, which meant he had no income. They eventually lost their house. At the time, he says, his focus was on surviving. Uwe was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a disease that has no cure. "It's high blood pressure in the lungs," he explains. "I'm on medication that gives me time. I'm buying time right now." Thanks to the medication, Uwe has gotten better, but it didn't happen overnight. He was in a wheelchair, then began to walk again, truly taking it one step at a time. "It was a process of a couple of months to get more strength and better breathing," he says. "Then we started again to focus on the business because you have to live on something."
While he was sick, the family got tremendous support from family and friends, including many from their church, Douglas Baptist Church. "In times like that, you know exactly who your friends are," says Beate. "It's very important to find that out, I think." Uwe calls it a cleaning process, noting that your priorities change. "You notice what's important and what's not, because your life changes in the blink of an eye."
The couple celebrated their silver anniversary at the hospital, as well as Uwe's 45th birthday, as they are the same day. "I was alive, so we had a lot of reasons to celebrate," he says.
In October 2006, they moved to their new home on Woodstock Road and gradually rebuilt their business. "We started slowly with the chocolate again. People knew us because we had been in the farmers' market for over five years," he says. Then customers asked if they would be willing to offer lunches. "They knew we are from Germany and Schade's (Restaurant) was already closed and it seems there was no other German restaurant in the area."
At first it seemed like too much, but as Uwe got better, they started serving lunch. "We're still in the city a little bit, but it's a way to go when you're working and just have a lunch break," he says. So clients began asking if they would consider offering dinner as well, so they could take time to enjoy their food. "We offer dinners, but we do it by appointment." That way, they can see how Uwe is feeling and keep some control over the process. "Our customers recommend us. We don't advertise," he says.
Though owning a small business keeps them busy, this couple still does what it can to help the community. "Beate volunteers at the food bank, she volunteers at the soup kitchen (with others) from our church." Knowing how important food is, and seeing what a need there is for services like the food bank, the couple came up with the idea of Pay As You Wish nights, combining a few ideas into one. "We made a customer appreciation night to show that really our customers are important to us," says Uwe. And allowing them to pay as they wish is a good way to see how satisfied customers are.
"We said we can combine this with an event for the food bank, so we told our customers that 10 per cent of the proceeds that night go to the food bank to give a little bit back the blessings we have." The event turned out to be "a blast," he says. "We were completely booked out, dinners and lunches, and people really had a good feeling about this." Not only did they have good food to eat, they controlled how much they thought it was worth and they got to contribute to a good cause. The food bank is a cause that is close to their hearts, say the Kuesters, as they have experienced bad times."It can happen to anybody," say Beate. "It's important to have a place like (the food bank) that you can go."
Volunteer work isn't the only thing this couple likes to do in their spare time. They have recently put together a gospel group called 4 His Glory with friends Jason Farris and Beverley Richard. While Beate was always involved in music, Uwe never thought it was for him. "I cannot sing in front of people," he says. His wife did push him into the choir at Douglas Baptist Church, he says, which he joined as he thought it would be good for his lungs and breathing. But this past spring, he decided he wanted to take his singing further. "I don't know why, but I had an urge to do something, to spread the gospel." The result is 4 His Glory and, Uwe says, the four members fit well together. "We have the same taste in music, we have the same desire. We are all Christians and we want to show people what the Lord is doing in our lives and how He is working in His miracle ways."
They have performed a few times at different churches, usually in support of a worthwhile cause. "It's going wonderful. We learn with every performance we have," he says.The Kuesters feel blessed that they are able to do this and give back. Facing Uwe's illness and the challenges it brought helped to strengthen their faith. "We could see how He worked in our life. He provided what we needed," says Beate. They may have lost a lot during that period, but they didn't lose what was truly important. "It's not a problem if you have to go on the ground, if you fell down," says Uwe. "The problem starts if you stay on the ground." You need to get back on your feet, accept it happened and move on. "The past is the past," he says. "You have to look forward to what you have to do now." They believe it is better to try something and fail than to never do try anything. Failure is a part of learning and growing stronger.
Also worth noting is that just two years ago Uwe would never have been able to sing. "In 06, I could not imagine having the breathing capacity to sing again because I couldn't even walk three steps." Though he believes there is a reason he became sick, Uwe doesn't dwell on the fact that there is no cure. "You have to make the best out of the time you have," says Beate.
How they do that is by focusing on the present and taking things as they come. "Even if I wake up in the morning and I have a bad day, I always say to my wife that a bad day up is better than a bad day six feet under," says Uwe. They are thankful for what they have every day and have no regrets for anything they have experienced. "I think we would do it the same way again," says Uwe. "We look forward. There are all kinds of opportunities out there," says Beate. "You just have to see them."
One thing they both agree on, they say, is "life is good."
By LORI GALLAGHER
Published in the Daily Gleaner, Saturday November 1st, 2008
Photo by The Daily Gleaner/James West Pho
©The Daily Gleaner