After learning the tricks of the trade in the UK, German food scientist, baker and entrepreneur Dilek Topkara returned to her native town of Berlin to open a café. Having benefited herself from an Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs scholarship, Dilek makes a point of playing host to the next generation of entrepreneurs who are interested in experiencing life abroad.
Fascinated by food
Dilek, who was born in Berlin and has Turkish roots, grew up surrounded by food. Her dad was a chef and what people eat has always been a source of keen interest. “I love how food brings people together,” says Dilek. “I can remember passing a German bakery on the way to school and being fascinated about how everything was made by hand.”
This interest grew, and as a teenager Dilek wanted to better understand food at a molecular level. This led her to study food science and technology, where she took a highly scientific approach to food production. “I’d bake something and then study under the microscope what happens,” she explains. “I wrote my thesis on the improvement of baked goods for celiac disease patients.”
New experiences abroad
Dilek’s life changed when, after her studies, she participated in the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs scholarship programme. This enabled her to travel to the UK to continue her research work, and to also gain some practical baking and business experience.
“I just felt a calling to go to the UK and I was extremely happy with my choice,” she says. “It was such a great experience. I lived and worked in Leicester, then a small town in Essex, and then central London. Including a short summer internship in New York, I spent about five years abroad.”
Dilek believes that a new environment in which she was able to grow, professionally and personally, was exactly what she needed at the time. “The UK welcomed me with open arms,” she says. “I love to travel and learn from other cultures, and I think countries can learn from other countries as well.”
After a few years of working in the UK, Dilek was ready for a new challenge. She also felt she had some unfinished business with her hometown and wanted to return to “spread some sweetness and love, and to try to make it a nicer place”. Another motivation was the opportunity to pour both her scientific knowledge and practical experience of baking into her own business venture.
Giving back to the community
A key challenge at the beginning was financing. “I returned from London with very little money and banks really didn’t want to help,” she says. “I just had enough savings to get going, and growth has been completely organic. I baked my first cake, then another, and then another.”
Today, Dilek’s business has grown to encompass a bakery and café. She has also published a book. Dilekerei is primarily a family-run business and Dilek takes care of everything that is required to keep the business afloat. “Once in a while we host also Erasmus scholars, we had 2 already and are waiting for a third to come and join our team. I’m really passionate about giving something back and encouraging others to have the same lifechanging experiences that I’ve had.”
Dilek is a frequent speaker at Erasmus events, where she shares her experiences and tries to encourage other young women to fulfil their potential. “I would advise anyone who has the personality to push things forward to just go for it,” she says. “I think this is especially true for women. There are so many talented women out there who could be successful if only they were encouraged.”