BRUSSELS – How powerful is microfinance? The answer, this time, does not come from the developing world but from one of the most affluent countries on the planet, Luxembourg, where four friends built a business that, in six years, became so successful that it managed to thrive even during Covid: LëtzeBurger.
“We have been the only open restaurant in Luxembourg,” Félix says proudly. “We called the authorities and asked if we could sell take-away burgers; they said it was okay, so we went for it.” This allowed LëtzeBurger to grow despite the collapse of the global HORECA sector during the Covid-related lockdowns between 2020 and 2021.
Félix is a busy entrepreneur. “We never stop working,” he says, “even during my spare time, I keep thinking about ways to improve the business. This is one of the reasons we are successful.”
Felix founded LëtzeBurger in 2017 as a single food truck with no ideas on how to run a business and with limited support from family and friends. “It was me with some friends. When we finished school, all we wanted to do was to stay out on the street and do different things,” he remembers. “We were cleaning cars for the neighbours, or we were mowing lawns, and, at some point, we wanted something more structured.”
The idea came in the shape of a food truck. Félix and his friends wanted to start something that needed very little capital, and this kind of business seemed to fit their needs, but none of them had specific training in cooking or business. “I had an uncle,” says Félix, “who knew someone who did burgers in Luxembourg. So, I went to the shop and learned how to make burgers, and that’s it.”
During his training, Félix also met his first suppliers. “They offered me the best price, and that kick-started the business,” Félix reckons. LëtzeBurger is now a 26-jobs strong company, adding new employees daily. “I just hired two students today,” Félix said. He is particularly proud of his work, not only because it already employs so many people but because it proves that things can be done differently in the fast-food sector. “We make sure that everyone is happy working for us. We listen to feedback from customers and employees alike, and we try to improve every day.”
The company couldn’t exist without the support of Microlux. Microlux is a Luxembourg-based microfinance institution focused on small enterprises like LëtzeBurger.
“The first loan from Microlux was of 15,000 euros,” recalls Félix, but the support from Microlux did not end there. The Luxembourgish microfinance institutions also provided other services. “They have been very helpful,” says Félix remembering how they “helped us crunching the numbers and better crunching our numbers.”
The coaching support provided by Microlux was fundamental in the first phases of the business: Félix and his friends had to learn everything from scratch, including basics like finding the correct price for a burger. “At the beginning,” Félix reflects, “the margins on our burgers were too small. At one point, my friends and I were making 700 euros per month. It was not a big deal because we were still living with our parents, but the problem was that our employees were making more money than we were!” This had proven a valuable lesson for LëtzeBurger. “Our burgers were too cheap,” he says: Cheap burgers helped LëtzeBurger crack the relatively crowded food truck scene in Luxembourg, putting the business on the brink of bankruptcy.
Rising prices didn’t damage business, though. “We provide high-quality burgers, and if people don’t want to pay for it, there is nothing we can do about it.” The inflation, though, is taking a toll on his business. Sunflower seed oil (an essential ingredient for fries) became exceedingly expensing. Yet, Félix does not seem to be too much worried about it. “The indexation of salaries in Luxembourg arrived recently, so I am not that worried about it,” he says. Although inflation is a concern, Felix is confident in his business idea. ‘’I Want to keep going,’’ he says, ‘’I want to keep going, I want to see what we can do. We have so much to learn yet’’ he concludes, ‘’but we are ready to make LëtzeBurger bigger.’’
CORRETION: In a previous version EMN wrote a wrong amount for the first loan.