With his Nakama, Dustin Heimsoth proves that modern, Asian fusion cuisine harmonizes perfectly with first-class drinks. In the charming, stylishly furnished restaurant in downtown Hamburg, Dustin mixes drinks that you won't find anywhere else. After all, he created them precisely for the modern and extravagant sushi creations and the traditional Asian dishes at Nakama.
Nakama is Japanese and means friendship. That's exactly what we're dealing with Dustin Heimsoth connects and what the guests immediately sense in his restaurant: you feel welcome, like at friends' home. You are even welcomed into a family: Dustin's fiancée Trang Le planned the pan-Asian restaurant with her mother Bui Thanh Thuy and her brother Minh Duc Le, into which the blonde boy quickly integrated his bar skills. “Every drink that you find on our bar menu is individual and only available with us. “Mostly it’s not rocket science and often a “twist” on a classic with unusual ingredients,” Dustin explained to us. He developed all the drinks himself, because the cocktails should do one thing above all else: go well with the food. We have once again ventured out of the Free State,
THE DUKE Distillery : Dear Dustin, we are happy to finally be with you. Due to Corona, we had to postpone our meeting for a few months. What was that time like for you and what has changed?
Dustin Heimsoth : Yes! Glad it worked now. After it became clear that the gastronomic lockdown would come, we were among the first to close our shops. The dramaturgy for us was that we had only launched our lunch & take out concept “Bentō” in January. Just when things were getting off to a good start, we had to close. Because both shops (editor's note: Nakama and Bentō) are located in downtown Hamburg, we mainly have the surrounding companies as our guests at lunchtime. But these were now in the home office, so we didn't have any guests even after the reopening.
We then decided quite spontaneously to combine both cards (Nakama & Bentō) and switch to our own delivery service. However, to be honest, we initially had no idea what we were actually doing, for example in terms of logistics, planning, radius, etc. At that time there were only three of us: my girlfriend, her brother and me. She took and coordinated orders, her brother did sushi and the kitchen, and I drove around town and delivered myself. (Editor's note: by bike - not an e-bike!)
Otherwise, we used the time and rebuilt the nakama a little. The cat wall is new, our bar was extended, a seating area was built and a new ceiling was installed.
It turned out very nice! What has changed for you today?
Everyday life is back, but of course the restrictions still exist. Unfortunately, this still causes a lack of understanding among many guests.
We are currently open both stores regularly again, but we no longer deliver with the Nakama, but rather control everything via the Bentō. Because of the distance regulations, we had to reduce the number of seats in the Nakama from the original 70 to 35. This is of course also clearly noticeable in sales.
Does this at least leave time for new hobbies?
Yes, I now work as a bicycle courier. (laughs) I'm currently making deliveries from the Bentō Box myself. As soon as you notice that lunchtime is starting again, we are looking for reinforcements with our own drivers.
What is the general state of the Hamburg gastronomic scene these days?
The cohesion among each other is good. The city is just significantly larger than Munich or Stuttgart, for example, and so of course the gastronomy scene is accordingly.
For example, we supported each other in that we only offered food in our stores and then referred our guests to friendly bars when they asked for drinks and vice versa.
That sounds like a nice concept. Please tell us about your career. What brought you into gastronomy and how did Nakama come about?
I grew up in tranquil Bremen, graduated from secondary school there and trained as a hotel manager at the age of 16. This is where my course for the future was set. One of my stops there was the hotel bar, but I actually didn't really get excited about it, that came later.
After completing my training, I worked in a hotel in the events sector and met my now fiancée there. To be honest, she didn't like me at first, but I annoyed her until she finally went out for a drink with me. That was nine years ago now.
It took me a long time to find myself and what I really enjoy. I worked at various bars, the first cocktail competitions started in 2012 and I was on a ship for two years and traveled around the world. After my return in 2015, I spent a year and a half in Cologne Mohammad Nazzal in the Al-Salam worked at the bar.
In 2016 I was accepted for the Jägermeister scholarship and was allowed to go to “The Gibson” in London for six months. Afterwards there was a short detour to Berlin.
In the meantime, my girlfriend and her brother had opened the Nakama in Hamburg and since I was always there on my days off and helped out, the decision was made in October 2017 to join in there completely.
And what was your dream career as a child?
I used to want to be a police officer, someone who solves cool criminal cases. I even applied for an internship when I was at school, but unfortunately I was rejected because of my bad eyesight. (Editor's note: Dustin has +8.5 diopters)
It would certainly have been exciting too. What do you enjoy most about your current gastronomy job?
Be creative and develop drink recipes. That's what I enjoy the most and I miss it a little at the moment. What appeals to me most about being self-employed is being able to do exactly what we want to do. We can be creative and design our concept freely.
As a next step we had actually planned a bar concept. We had already found the location and then the lockdown came... Everything is currently on hold and we hope that the situation will ease soon so that we can finally get started.
What would you consider to be your greatest achievement?
(Don't think about it for long) In fact, my greatest success so far is that I got my apprenticeship at the hotel. That was the starting signal for everything. If I hadn't gotten it, everything would have gone in a different direction.
...and you might have ended up with the police after all. Why do you have the Bavarian THE DUKE Gin in your back bar in Hamburg?
It's just a cool product! You were basically the first on the German gin market and are still owner-managed to this day, which is very charming. We are also simply united by our North-South German friendship.
What is your favorite drink?
Beer is always possible. But beer isn't a drink - doesn't sound really sexy as a bartender, does it? (laughs) Otherwise, I also really like drinking an Old Fashioned.
You seem to be working a lot despite – or perhaps because of – Corona. What does a day off look like for you?
We like to eat a lot and eat well and look at other restaurant concepts.
If you had one wish for the bar scene, what would it be?
A little less self-congratulation and more focus on the guests. Don't be so obsessed with drawing attention to yourself. Focus on the store and bring it forward sensibly, then the “fame” will come by itself.
Please talk a little more about what's going on. What is your craziest gastro story?
Theoretically, you shouldn't talk about something like that! (laughs and thinks for a long time) During my training, we once had a guest who walked around the hotel naked and who I was then allowed to take back to his room... first find out where he lived! We walked three floors of the hotel together to find his room – arm in arm and he was naked and slightly tipsy. All the while he was telling me how much he loved me. We eventually found his room. The door was open and his blanket was lying in the hallway. There was another person in the bed, also naked.
We met again later at breakfast and they both thanked us several times. (grins)
Finally, do you have a request for your guests? Now you can get rid of them.
Please don't make it so difficult for us to implement the regulations currently set by the city. Please just have a little understanding for our situation.
Thank you for the interview and all the best!
We can only warmly recommend a visit (or rather several) to Dustin in Nakama to all Hamburg residents, but also traveling visitors, as well as cocktail lovers and friends of modern and traditional Asian cuisine. Irasshaimase!
Finally, a big thank you to Bettina Theuerkauf for the spontaneous use and the beautiful pictures!