Ambiente blog series "Behind the booth: family business stories"

Behind the booth: family business stories.

The names are illustrious, often associated with a long tradition and personal stories: Family businesses have a lot to tell and hold a special fascination for us. You will also find such companies among the Ambiente exhibitors, some of which we would like to introduce to you in the coming months. We start in the Dining area with Robbe & Berking and Cristel.


Family-run companies are often rooted in their region, even if the business expands into international markets, and they are seen as a guarantee of stability and sustainable growth. But how does co-operation with relatives work and how can family and business interests be reconciled?

Robbe & Berking: A passion for silver

With the opening of his workshop in Flensburg in 1874, silversmith Nikolaus Christoph Robbe established a company that is still characterised by silver, craftsmanship and family spirit today. When his son-in-law Robert Berking joined the silversmithy in 1897, it experienced its first upswing, which continued over the next generations.

Around 1900: Master craftsman and journeymen: Robert Berking on the left, Nicolaus Christoph Robbe on the right. Photo: © Robbe & Berking
Oliver Berking and his daughter Lilli. Photo: © Robbe & Berking

Oliver Berking, who has been with the company since 1985, also consistently follows the guidelines of his ancestors. Under his leadership, Robbe & Berking has developed into the world market leader for silver cutlery. Berking has also been pursuing a second great passion since 2008: The production of fine yachts made of wood in its own shipyard.

Just in time for the company’s 150th anniversary, Lilli Berking, the daughter of the long-standing head of the company, is the sixth generation of the family to take on management duties. “Even as a child, I wanted to work in the family business later on”, says Lilli Berking, who sees it as a great responsibility, but never as an obligation. She has her sights firmly set on many future topics such as digital transformation. Her father is extremely pleased that she is continuing the family tradition. “As much as our work and our brand name shine, it remains a task that requires full strength. In addition to talent and numerous skills, it requires a great deal of passion and heart and soul, and sometimes also perseverance. Lilli is exactly the right person for the job.”

Perfect craftsmanship: the hands of the masters determine the design and quality of every piece of work. Photo: © Robbe & Berking
The classic ‘Metropolitan’ cutlery was re-edited for the 150th anniversary this year. Photo: © Robbe & Berking

Cristel: Innovations for the kitchen

Feches-le-Châtel, one of the oldest industrial regions in France, is the home of Cristel. Founded in 1826 by Frédéric Japy, the company soon produced France’s first deep-drawn cooking pot – a real innovation at the time. After a rapid rise, the wars of the 20th century and disputes between the divided owners led to economic decline. In 1983, on the initiative of former employees, the company was relaunched under the name Cristel.

However, the cooperative soon reached its limits, so a consultant was brought in – Bernadette Dodane. Together with her husband Paul, she had the courage to take the plunge and took over the company in 1987. The breakthrough came with the ‘Cook & Serve’ concept developed by Paul Dodane. The ‘Mutine’ range with its removable handles, which could be taken straight from the hob to the table, soon became the best-selling cookware in France.


More than 90 per cent of the products carry the “Origine France Garantie” quality label. Photo: © Cristel
With its removable handles, “Mutine” is already a classic. Photo: © Cristel

Social and ecological responsibility

The company policy is characterised by clearly defined values. These include manufacturing in France, a stringent sustainability and environmental policy and the endeavour to always create the best possible working conditions for employees. It was these values that prompted the sought-after theatre actor Damien Dodane to join Cristel in 2000 and support his parents and brother-in-law Emmanuel Brugger in the company. His sister Myriam Jean takes care of the company’s legal affairs as a lawyer.

Today, three generations work for the success of Cristel. Front from left: Damien Dodane, Myriam Jean und Bernadette Dodane. Back from left: Julien Jean und Léo Dodane (3rd generation), Paul Dodane, Emmanuel Brugger (CEO) und Antoine Jean (3rd generation).

With Julien and Antoine Jean as well as Léo Dodane, three representatives of the third generation are now on board at Cristel, having already enjoyed successful careers in other companies. “They all bring expertise and strong commitment. They all give their best and there is a collective energy at work,” says Damien Dodane, summarising the special “togetherness” at Cristel.

The journey of discovery through the world of family businesses continues: In the next post in our series, you will get to know two companies from Ambiente’s Giving area.