After seven years at restaurant Bord'Eau, chef Richard van Oostenbrugge and sous-chef Thomas Groot leave their kitchen to make their dream come true: a restaurant of their own. To realize their ideas they renovate a beautiful location near the Amstel river. It is the first no-table restaurant in the Netherlands, with only twenty-four seats and ten chefs.
You have huge reputations as chefs. How exciting is this next step as entrepreneurs?
Thomas: A reputation is at stake, but also money. And that is both quite exciting. But it is a positive excitement. We did not come across any crazy things with the construction. We have spent slightly more money on good people around us. People who we believe can help us. It is a considerable amount of money that we have invested. The sale of tickets has helped us tremendously to get a little insight and to get some certainty. As an entrepreneur it is just super nice to know what you are going to do in sales. Of course you only really see that when you are up and running, but the ticket sales is the first certainty we have.
What is your division of roles?
Thomas: As an entrepreneur you have so many things around you, you have to divide responsibilities. How? We always discuss upcoming tasks. We do everything to ensure that things runs as smoothly as possible. We are constantly working on that. Things we are dissatisfied with. Things that can be improved.
Richard: We try not to postpone tasks. We ensure things are finished before we continue.
Thomas: We are busy making lists every day, busy with not forgetting things, with completing tasks.
Richard: We have shared notes on our phones. Once something is done, you can check it off. Works very well.
Thomas: You first ask yourself: do we have to do this? Because you are giving up free time again. We both have children. So the question you have to ask yourself is: will we be happier if we do this? Or are we only investing precious time? Those are the decisions you make. That is doing business. You can take on all thing that cross your path, but you have to be able to do it well. It must be controlled and you must not overwork. We came back from New York once with a heavy jet lag. We really suffered from that. This was in the autumn, a period which is very heavy in the hospitality industry. Especially at hotels. There are so many meetings and parties and the culinary guides are published.
Richard: We were really broken. When I finally had two weeks of vacation in January, I spent a week in bed.
Thomas: He was in bed and I went to Paris and I got panic attacks. Then I knew, this time we went too far. You really have to listen to that. After that it never came back. You become aware of your own abilities.
How do you prevent breakdowns?
Richard: By being honest about when things are not going well. Every now and then you have to tell yourself: this is too much. Now we have to take a little break. After that you divide responsibilities again or you decide not to do it at all.
What was your defining moment?
Richard: L'Atelier Robuchon in Paris was the first restaurant with an open kitchen at the bar. That has always lingered with me. When we heard that Breitner was for sale, I immediately knew. I have lived around the corner there. I always thought it was a very beautiful building, perfectly located on a corner at the Amstel river, the Magere Brug and Carré theater. For a regular restaurant it would be too small, but for what we are going to do the place is perfect. It simply meets all criteria.
Thomas: At our first appointment we wanted to know the size of everything. What is a bearing wall and what is not? How far can we go here? We had an idea in our mind. We wanted to do it differently. It could not be a normal restaurant. We wanted to be very close to people, so that we can explain more and ask people more. Guests who come to this level are often very interested in food.
Richard: If someone would do this, I would be in the first rank. I think this is great.
So you are your own benchmark?
Richard: Yes of course! The same goes for cooking. If you do not love it yourself, then why serve it to someone else?
Thomas: We also want to hear nice music and work with good light. And we want more interaction with guests.
Richard: We just want to have a lot of fun. If you have a lot of fun it radiates on your guests. That should be the success factor.
It sounds like you are really ready for it.
Richard: Absolutely! We are totally ready!
Thomas: That's exactly how it feels. We are really looking forward to it.
Richard: I have no fear anymore. I just know it will be alright, that it will be super cool. I know that it will be something that I myself am 100% behind.
I have no
Thomas: “Extra hours are an investment in yourself. You put your free time into it as well. It is not necessarily what is asked of you, but sometimes you want to show what you can do. You like doing it, so you no longer see it as work. You are making yourself better.”
What is the future going to bring you?
Richard: I do not look too far ahead. We want to enjoy today and create something cool with the entire team. We want to bring back the balance as soon as possible. We want to return to four days work as soon as possible. Those four days we do work very hard, but we should be able to build a life as well. We do not want any burnouts.
How important is work-life balance?
Thomas: Super important. It makes you happy. And that radiates to your guests.
Richard: That is what I hope now. What it will be in five years, we will see that then.
Thomas: There is no exit strategy in this plan. For us it is just a new beginning. We want to build on this.
Richard: We have signed for ten years plus an optional for five. So we are going to stay here for that period anyway. If we had really done it for the money, you would have opened a hundred-seater.
Thomas: It is not that we do not have money left. If we do good, then ..
Richard: ..we do make money. But if we had really done it for the money, we could have used our name and put down a brasserie of a hundred people.
You can always do that later.
Richard: Exactly. That’s it. Now we are building a very strong brand, but above all we now want to get the most out of ourselves. Both in terms of cooking and doing business. The whole package, instead of just cooking. Now we are really responsible for the whole story. And that is super cool.
What Richard says about Formitable
Everyone complains about no-shows. I believe prepaid tickets are a very smart solution. I'm pretty sure that every fine dining restaurant in will introduce this. I wouldn’t know why not!