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  • Julian Kirwan:

Dishing up a Kiwi breakfast and brunch with a dash of Brazil in the Netherlands

Amsterdam has a vibrant food scene, but Julian Kirwan and his partner felt that there was something missing. Bakers & Roasters is their lovechild and the first of its kind in the Dutch capital.

Run by a former flight attendant from New Zealand and a restaurateur from Brazil, Bakers & Roasters offers a mixture of taste that you will not find anywhere else in Amsterdam. “I was a London (U.K.) based flight attendant for Air New Zealand and Sergio had a Brazilian restaurant in Los Angeles (U.S.). We met in Los Angeles and he moved to London with me, where we lived for eight years. Sergio received the British citizenship and I already had an Irish citizenship through descent. We had always wanted to open an eatery together, but we just did not know where. We talked about opening a restaurant in London, but the city got a little too hectic. After visiting friends in Amsterdam a couple of times, we got a bit envious of their lives. We really liked the relaxed atmosphere and in 2011 we made the decision to move to the Dutch capital.”

Starting a business in the Netherlands

Throughout their lives Julian and Sergio have been exposed to many different types of cultures and hospitality customs. “Before we came to the Netherlands, we also thought about moving to Spain. After much deliberation we decided to spend our holidays in Spain and start our business in the Netherlands. During that period Spain was in an economic recession and we came across obstacles that we did not encounter in the Netherlands. The business climate in the Netherlands is very accessible and there is not a lot of bureaucracy. Besides that, the Netherlands has a diverse society, good infrastructure and a stable democracy. Moreover, Dutch people like a trend and if they like it, they will return and adopt it very quickly. All of this definitely made our choice for the Netherlands easier.”

Funding our business idea

Seven years ago, Julian and Sergio came to the Netherlands. It started with a concept and in 2013 they began their first restaurant. “We did a lot of market research before we opened. We took our time to get the funding, decide about the location and the menu. We did not go into it blindly, that’s for sure. Firstly, we sent our business plan to friends and family. To our surprise there were a couple of them who actually wanted to invest in our concept, which gave us a boost and the confirmation that we were on the right track. We found it very difficult to get funding in the Netherlands. The banks that we went to did not believe in our concept. They told us that Dutch people do not do brunch. In the UK and New Zealand it was much easier to get a loan. We did a lot of things ourselves and we only spent what we needed to. You get a lot more creative when you are on a tight budget and you really think twice before spending any money.”

Running our business

Julian and Sergio go the extra mile to serve up high-quality food, appreciation first came from locals and expats and when they started to rate the food online, also from tourists. “A part of the original business plan was to open a Bakers & Roasters in every city in the Netherlands. The first restaurant location filled up quickly and has stayed busy ever since. The second location, which we opened in 2015, became successful as well. We had always wanted to open a Mexican restaurant in Amsterdam, because one of the things we missed most from Los Angeles was authentic Mexican food. In 2016 we opened a tacoria on the Albert Cuyp market. Our biggest obstacle was finding staff that were used to this style of cooking. To solve this problem we wanted to bring in Mexican chefs, but acquiring (full) work permits turned out to be quite difficult. The next problem we ran into was exposure. We were located behind the Albert Cuyp market, which made it impossible for us to open a terrace in the summer season and receive any exposure during the daytime. Dinner is also a different ball game, nobody wants to wait for a table, especially Dutch people who prefer eating between 7-9 pm. Apart from this it became increasingly difficult to divide our attention between three businesses. Everything together made us decide to close the tacoria in 2018.”

New concepts

When Julian and Sergio first started out they wanted to take over the whole world and do it all. Now, they live in the moment and accept a slow growth. “We had obstacles, but thankfully there are two of us. I would never start a business by myself, Sergio would not either. We started out as a sole proprietorship, now we are a ‘BV’, with sixty employees. We know by now that we really like daytime concepts, so we are thinking of a couple, but it needs to be the right time. It is possible that we will do something outside of the Netherlands. I would like a farm to table restaurant, but we would need land for that concept. Going back home to New Zealand is something that we are considering as well, though it would be difficult to leave a fun place like Amsterdam. So, we are not leaving anytime soon.”

Tips for entrepreneurs

“Just believe in yourself, it sounds a cliché, but it is so true. Try to find a partner that complements your skill set instead of doing it by yourself. It is very important to surround yourself with good people. The best thing we did was hiring a Dutch assistant, which made our lives a lot easier. When you live in this Amsterdam ‘bubble’, you are not forced to speak Dutch, because Dutch people also speak English. If you really want to understand the Dutch market, you need to make sure that you have Dutch speaking employees in your team. Especially when your company gets bigger, it is a lot more efficient.”