People

My Vilnius: The Blend of History and Food at Senatorių Pasažas

Niels Peter Pretzman

My Vilnius introduces you to people for whom the city has become the place they call home. It’s all about the ordinary lives of extraordinary people, and vice versa. These stories cover their favourite hidden gems and sights, as well as detours and discoveries in life. 

Niels Peter Pretzman is a Danish entrepreneur living in Vilnius, who came to the capital over two decades ago and instantly became fond of the place. Ever since then, he has established a deep-rooted connection with local culture and launched business ventures ranging from real estate to food supply. 

With his latest project Senatorių Pasažas, Niels has transformed part of the historic-heritage building into a vibrant food hall filled with quality produce to shop for and exquisite gastronomic experiences to indulge in.

VP: Tell us a bit yourself—where did your journey begin?

Niels: I’m Danish. I was born on a small farm in the Northern part of Jutland close to the sea. At first, I was a farmer, then I received education as a joiner and opened a construction company at the age of 24.

Seven years later, I became the founder of a window company: Storke Vinduer, where I worked until 2010. Today, it’s been almost a decade since I lived in Vilnius. Here I began the second chapter of my professional life as an entrepreneur involved in property development, hospitality, and farming. 

VP: What was life like growing up? 

Niels: I grew up in the time before TV and many other modern devices. The rhythm of life was dictated by nature, its seasons, and the needs of our livestock. There was no distinction between workdays and days off. Frankly, I don’t think I even understood understand the concept of holidays up until the age of 20. 

Since there was no radio or other technology, storytelling was very significant in our day-to-day lives. My mum had 12 sisters and brothers, so whenever they came to visit my parents, the stories told around the dinner table would be the highlight of our evenings.

VP: How long have you been living in Lithuania and what are some of your earliest memories of Vilnius?

Niels: When I first came to Lithuania it was back in the 2000s. At the time, I was on a study trip arranged by the Danish Construction Association. My visit resulted in a love story, particularly with Vilnius. 

Photo courtesy of Milda Vyšniauskaitė

In those days, Lithuania was still suffering from the consequences of the Soviet period. But the old town of Vilnius was the most memorable part of my visit. It was charming, compact with an almost Italian-style atmosphere — these were some of my first impressions. Later on, I learned that it was not without a reason due to ties with Italy historically and architecturally.

As much as our native countries lay the foundation for our values and who we are, every year I find myself establishing my roots in Lithuania deeper, and embracing the culture to its fullest. The city has so much potential in many areas, as well as great food, people, architecture; you name it.

VP: How was the idea of your latest venture ‘Senatorių Pasažas’ born?

Niels: It started with my first entry into the hospitality industry with our restaurant Dublis in 2006. Over time, the interest continued to develop and we became the food and beverage contractor for Hotel Pacai from 2018 to 2020. 

Since we have a farm, it was the driver behind the concept of turning the passage into a food hall. The building where it is located dates back to the XVI century and was known as a monk brewery, so the condition and historic elements unveiled during its reconstruction had a significant influence on its concept, too.  

We bought the building in a public auction without a clear vision for its development. So the concept took shape and evolved organically, step-by-step, while discovering the wonders and secrets of the construction. Because the place had so much history ingrained in its walls, we even started calling the building a time machine.

VP: What can a first-time guest expect to find there?

Niels: As a first-time visitor, think of it like a city in a city. Senatorių Pasažas is a meeting place for locals, a workplace for over 100 people as the second floor is occupied by offices, and the final floor provides home for those who rent the apartments in the attic. 

When exploring the passage, you are surrounded by a tale of New Baltic Cuisine expressed with the produce from our farm Dirva (selling veggies, eggs, etc.) and a butcher shop Muu offering Angus meat and charcuterie from the farm. Grūdas is all about baked goods and Taurės invites you to choose from the widest offer of natural wines in town. 

There’s an array of street food stalls in the yard telling our guests a story about the local food and where it’s from together with skilled professionals serving it. Towards the end, you can find the entrances to our two eateries Nineteen18, a fine dining restaurant, and 14horses, a brasserie favoured by locals. 

Photo credit: Aiste Rakauskaite @aiste.rakauskaite

VP: You come across as very hands-on in everything you do. Is there one area of your business that you feel the most dedicated to and passionate about?

Niels: After many years in various kinds of businesses, I found my passion in food and finding a better way to do things. Whether it’s the way we do farming, what’s on offer in our restaurants, or providing food items for retail. 

VP: What’s your philosophy in life? 

Niels: Nothing is impossible in life, almost. Make sure to spend your days in a way that makes you happy. If you dread going to work, it’s time to make a change.

Have a vision that guides your efforts and directs your actions. Like having a grand purpose that you might not even achieve but still strive for it. Mine is to produce better quality food and make it more accessible for everyone — whether it’s a restaurant kitchen or a dinner table at home.

VP: Do you have a favourite spot in town? 

Niels: I’m a little biased here. It’s Senatorių Pasažas.

VP: What are your recommendations for someone who is planning a trip to Vilnius? 

Niels: Choose a place within or close to the old town. Then everything is at walking distance, there’s plenty to look at, and dozens of small, cosy places to stop by for a coffee, a drink, or a meal. 

Vilnius is a very convenient destination and not difficult to access at all. In the summertime, you should try the legendary cold beetroot soup, and in the wintertime, warm up with a cepelinas or two.

VP: Where can we find you in the digital sphere? 

Niels: You can contact us online Senatorių Pasažas, Farmers’ Circle, Hygge, Nineteen18, 14horses, Dirva, Muu, and Grūdas. If you want to get in touch with me personally, you can do that on either Facebook or Instagram.

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