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Discovering Cleveland: Advice From A Swiss Baker

Kurt and Barbara Zoss in their bakery in Cleveland Heights
Kurt and Barbara Zoss in their bakery in Cleveland Heights

I’ve come to a small bakery, tucked off Cedar Rd in Cleveland Heights to get some perspective on the area from someone who can relate to my time in Switzerland--Cleveland’s Swiss baker, and his wife.

KURT ZOSS: “Kurt Zoss, owner of Swiss baker in Cleveland Heights”

BARBARA ZOSS: “and Barbara Zoss, owner of Zoss The Swiss Baker.”

The Zoss couple has been in Cleveland for nearly two decades, now managing four employees and pushing out ten bread assortments a day. Kurt Zoss, in a white apron and ball cap, says he setup shop here in Cleveland Heights because his wife was from here, and there was a need for a bakery. But the couple first met a bit farther south.

BARBARA ZOSS: “We met in Mexico, and then we lived in Los Angeles for a while—I used to be a special ed teacher in Los Angeles. And Kurt used worked for Nancy Silverton when she owned the La Brea bakery. Then we decided after we got married to move to Switzerland.”

Barbara Zoss says Cleveland Heights is very walkable, making it similar but not exactly like typical European neighborhoods which like small bakeries like this. Kurt Zoss says it was an adjustment to live here.

KURT ZOSS: “It wasn’t really a shock, I would say, there were some changes yeah. But since we lived in the States before, and we had still family here, so it wasn’t really something totally new. Maybe the hardest thing for me here in the beginning was work ethic.”

By work ethic Zoss means the conditions of a job in the U.S. aren’t often as clearly defined as in Switzerland.

KURT ZOSS: "In Switzerland I worked for, you know, a big company, and everything was relatively clear and organized, and you hit your 42 hours and everything was compensated. Personally, if I would have to work for somebody else I would go back to Switzerland.”

As a small-business owner Zoss can have a little more control over his compensation. This includes being sure he has a benefits package, including health insurance, in which he can feel confident. In Switzerland, everyone is entitled to health insurance and the system is such that no one goes broke just because they get sick. Here, it is different—just as the overall experience of an American city is different from the Zoss’s time abroad.

BARBARA ZOSS: “I think the hardest thing is seeing the deterioration more and more over the last 20 years. There was never an area I didn’t feel safe walking in Zurich. And here I feel like there are certain areas I wouldn’t want to drive through, and I feel sorry for people having to live there that it’s like that, and that it’s just going more downhill, and the infrastructure and the roads. I mean I think it’s going to change, it has to change.”

That there are rough neighborhoods in Cleveland was not a surprise to Kurt Zoss and his wife. Though he says the state of those neighborhoods is still shocking to people who don’t see them everyday.

But, wanting to end our talk on a lighter note, the couple’s parting advice to me, is to continue discovering the area on my own.

BARBARA ZOSS: “I mean, go to the West Side, go to the East Side, go to the South Side. There’s a lot of different, unique areas.”

KURT ZOSS: “When we have a few minutes, we do it on the motorbike. We drive around here in neighborhoods. It’s interesting. You should see what’s around, and there’s a lot around.”

Kurt Zoss’s native Zurich is a true international city, but he and his wife Barbara say Cleveland has international chops of its own, if just more dispersed throughout communities. They say the universities and hospitals have attracted a steady flow of foreign talent, many of whom have become customers.

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.