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The rudder blades of a recreational boat submerge into the cool waters of the Alster. The first rays of golden sunshine climb above the roofs of the venerable office buildings, cutting through the mist slowly lifting over the waters. It is probably the most peaceful moment in the otherwise hectic round-the-clock schedule of the Block House steak specialists. But this ends as soon as Michael Walzer steers his new pearl white Actros 1840 L into the cobbled street of the Rathausmarkt square. He makes a stop at the Block House Restaurant on the Jungfernstieg street. The unmistakeable logo with its mighty bull and the bold motto “Best steaks since 1968” is reflected in the windows.
Then, here in one of Hamburg's prime locations, things start to get busy: Michael Walzer, Dispatch and Fleet Manager of the Block Group, behind the wheel himself today for the “Mercedes-Benz Transport” reporters, opens the tail lift of the refrigerated body. The trolleys stocked up with food, drinks and catering equipment are quickly whisked into the restaurant. By 11 o'clock, when the barbecue in the restaurant is being heated up, Walzer is already on his way to one of the other sites.
Around six million guests are catered for each year in the 38 German Block House restaurants. Aside from the German Block House Restaurants, the Block Group also operates nine franchise companies, for example, in Switzerland and on Mallorca as well as the Jim Block burger restaurants and the Blockbräu brewery inn in Hamburg. In addition to that, the Block House butcher's in Hamburg, the Block Menü in Zarrentin (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) and the Block Handels GmbH (Block Trading Company) also belong to the Block Group. At Block Menü, menu items such as vegetable side dishes and sauces are prepared and packaged for their own restaurants as well as for other catering outlets and hotels. The Block Handels GmbH is responsible for the sale of the large range of Block House products to the retail trade. Thus, the whole value chain stays within the Block Group.
The logistics behind this enormous range of products is a little complex. This is because, it's not enough just to transport meat and other foodstuffs between the manufacturing sites and to the restaurants, but also all that is required for smooth restaurant operation too – whether it be the menu, the cutlery, the salt shaker or the paper towels. And, not to be forgotten: crayons, drawing paper and small gifts for the children.
The restaurants are supplied with around 15 tonnes of goods a day. “The large restaurants are supplied three times a week, the small ones twice a week,” explains Michael Walzer. Apart from the sites in Hamburg, Walzer's people deliver to restaurants in Berlin, Lubeck, Ahrensburg and Hanover.
The Block House success story started in the 1960s, when Eugen Block, the son of a grocer and restaurant owner from near Oldenburg, saw some restaurants in the USA during his apprentice years. He liked the rustic ski cabins, the so-called block houses, where juicy steaks were served on bare tables without a tablecloth. And he decided to bring the steak houses to Germany. In 1968, he opened the first “Block House” in Hamburg. The secret: delicious steaks, low prices and – no tablecloths. The idea caught on. Today, the bull in the logo is a trademark for premium taste – whether in the restaurant or as a convenience product in the supermarket.
To remain flexible, Block House maintains its own truck fleet with four vehicles, each with its own refrigeration unit. “It is important to us that all drivers see themselves as a part of Block House,” says Walzer. “Only then will they take responsibility themselves for the company's success.” For it's often details which can help to avoid unnecessary costs: “If a driver is caught in traffic, he calls the restaurant straight away. Then the restaurant manager can order the unloading staff for a little later and thus avoid paying for waiting times,” explains Walzer.
The newest member of the fleet is an Actros 1840 L, which has been there since Summer 2016. The vehicle's configuration was, like many things at Block House, a job for the boss himself. Eugen Block was involved in the decision to acquire the new Actros from the colour of the vehicle right up to the position of the company logo – and, of course, as you would expect from a Hanseatic citizen, with a close eye on costs. In the course of the decision, the safety of the drivers and their comfort on long journeys was important to him. That's why they ordered a new Actros 1840 L with full air suspension, something which benefits not just the driver but also the goods being transported. The Safety Package provides the finishing touch to the equipment.
“The drivers are an important part of the success of Block House. That's why we place great importance on equipping the vehicles to a very high level of safety and comfort.”
Michael Walzer, Dispatch and Fleet Manager of the Block Group
After a successful so-called fuel duel, in which a new Actros completed its journey with a much more fuel-efficient reading than the Block fleet had done until then, a detailed analysis of the overall efficiency was enough to convince the Block management. “The fuel duel was the door opener,” says Peter Wichert from key account truck sales at Mercedes-Benz Vertrieb NFZ GmbH Hamburg (Commercial Vehicle Sales), who was the one who put together the Actros package with Block House. “Following that, we were able to demonstrate that, in line with Mercedes-Benz RoadEfficiency, the low overall costs, the high level of safety and a high level of vehicle usage all combine to produce a convincing level of efficiency,” Wichert recalls.
Restaurants: The Block Group runs 47 Block House restaurants, eleven Jim Block premium burger restaurants plus the Blockbräu brewery inn at the Hamburg landing bridges.
Beef: The company's own Block House butchery processes high-quality beef which is mainly sourced from South America. 70 per cent of which is delivered to national and international customers.
Menü: The Block Menü in Zarrentin supplies meal components to its own companies plus around 1,400 restaurant owners, hotels, bulk consumers and catering companies both within Germany and abroad.
Trade: The Block Handels GmbH distributes a wide selection comprising more than 50 items including sauces, dressings and meat specialities.
Hotel: The Elysée Hotel AG, which belongs to the group, runs the Grand Elysée Hamburg, the biggest five-star private hotel in Germany.
Photos: Sebastian Vollmert