»I was born with 50 pct. beet juice in my veins«
The ghost of Beauvais is felt throughout Svinninge and To Øl City. And with us taking over the former food factory a lot of history comes into play. Meet technical chief Leif Jensen and warehouse employee Tom Jensen, who go way back with the site.
Walking in and out of the 12 buildings at To Øl City is like getting a glimpse into a different world. One of white-coated men and women working to pickle and preserve cucumbers, gherkins, beets and red cabbage. Production assembly lines are still around, a massive ravioli machine was also left behind and at the old workshop there are still nude calendars from the 80’s on the walls. Several technicians were employed here, and one is still around. As Tore puts it; he was a part of the contract.
»When we came to see this place, it was an elderly man who opened the gates for us, and he said ‘dav’ and shook our hands. Leif, who used to be the technical chief of the food factory worked here for 30 years and knows everything about the place. When we signed the contract, the fine print read that Leif was part of the deal,« Tore says.
Leif Jensen, 75, has been on the factory since 1971, when he was hired as an engineer and soon after CTO.
»We maintained machines, assembling them in the morning and dismantling them at night. It was our job to keep everything operational, changing parts and building new machines when it was needed,« Leif says, excited to be back at the place he worked at most of his life: »It’s an amazing feeling to share some of the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years – that my expertise is still useful. And with good reason, because I know where all the switches are, and what the machines can do, since I more or less made them myself.«
Learning about how Leif and his colleagues built a lot of machinery at Beauvais inspired us to incorporate some of this handcrafted quality into the process of building To Øl City. When we saw that the old kettles for boiling ketchup were left behind, we immediately saw the opportunity for reuse and now we’re repurposing them as the foundation of our new distillery.
In 1956 Beauvais bought the site here in Svinninge and moved their production of preserved vegetables out from Copenhagen. Beauvais was founded in 1850 by Jean Desiré Beauvais who came out of a butcher’s family. J.D. Beauvais’ father invented the Danish national pride ‘leverpostej’ (liver paste). J.D. Beauvais himself cracked the code of preserving foods in cans and created the first Danish canned food company. Beauvais had multiple locations in Copenhagen before the company moved to Svinninge, as the supply of fresh produce was hard to maintain in the greater Copenhagen area.
»Lammefjorden produces carrots, asparagus and peas of high quality, because the soil is fantastic. The whole area was a fjord before and was dried out to create farmland,« Leif explains.
Svinninge and Lammefjorden is deeply connected. The small town of just 3.000 inhabitants is like so many other small Danish towns, where big production facilities have had a major impact on the locals. At some point almost all the people living in Svinninge either worked at the ketchup factory or at the local energy company.
Today there’s a train station here, a bakery and a couple of supermarkets, all within a stone throw. Around the town is farmland with incredible conditions for farming, which came into being in 1873, when Lammefjorden in the Northwestern part of Sealand was reclaimed and turned into 5.000 acres of amazing farmland. The soil is incredibly rich and nutritious and has a naturally high amount of calcium thanks to millennia worth of mussel and oyster shells on the old sea bed.
»This is my life blood, damn it«
Another man who has a lifelong relationship with the old factory is Tom Jensen. Aged 63 and a resident of Svinninge all of his life, Tom was born in the house next door to the factory.
»I was picking berries in the orchards around here with my siblings, when we were kids. In 1973 I got my first job at Beauvais; a summer job to make a little extra while I was a student. After I finished school, I took a job here to make some money before moving on. But I’m still around, so apparently I haven’t made enough yet,« Tom says with a huge laughter.
In fact, Tom did eventually quit to work another job, but when we bought the old production facility, he was offered the opportunity to come back. Today, he works at the warehouse at To Øl City.
»It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of. At my age, this is my last chance to be part of something from the ground up. Living here and watching all the buildings deteriorate after being left abandoned for two and half years just broke my heart« he says:
»I’m definitely not alone in thinking that it’s amazing to have new life in these buildings. Everyone here knows Beauvais – the town grew up with the factory, for better and for worse. Back in the days we would always get complaints about the smell around town when the production of red cabbage began.«
With a lot of locals working here, even several generations of the same family, Beauvais was a part of the community. They built a kindergarten for the employees’ children, sponsored the local football team and much more, Tom explains:
»This is my life blood, damn it. I was born and raised with the factory. When I was a kid and played football, I crept under the fence of the factory site to pick up the ball whenever we kicked it over here. We came here to help peel peas with the seasonal workers. It’s been a part of my life forever – I was born with 50 pct. beet juice in my veins.«
The story of the refurbishing of To Øl City is also told in the 3rd episode of our To Øl City Webdoc – watch it on our youtube here.