The Northern Times contributor Matilda Siebrecht continues her series on local businesses during the Coronavirus outbreak. This time, she looks at how cafés are finding ways around the current closure
By Matilda Siebrecht
Think of a café: that little cosy place down that side street, nestled amongst the juice bars and lunch spots. The one that you’ve visited so often that the smiling owner says simply “the usual?” when they see you. The one where you’ve collected so many stamp cards that you could probably re-wallpaper your bedroom. The one that you can no longer visit, because due to the increased coronavirus restricted imposed this week, all cafes and restaurants are now closed.
A few weeks ago, I introduced a new series that aims to highlight the small businesses in Groningen, many of whom are overlooked in the increased online shopping brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic. Since writing that piece, further restrictions have been put in place that make it even more important to remember to support small local businesses.
Many cafes and restaurants in particular remember the difficulties that they encountered back in March. “The hospitality industry had a tough time,” says Corry Diertens, owner of De Soepwinkel. “But most small business owners were very inventive and could still generate some turnover.”
The flexibility and creativity of small businesses was a huge advantage in this respect, because they were able to adapt at a quicker rate than the larger businesses. “We had a lot of worries about our financial position, and do again now,” says Anne Froma, one of the co-founders of Bij Britta. “Our street was completely deserted in those first weeks. Then we started offering everything ‘to go’ and our customers could order cakes online. Both things went quite well.”
Some summer respite
Luckily for these smaller cafes and restaurants, the loosening of Coronavirus regulations in June coincided with the warmth of summer and encouraged customers to come back to terraces and street-side tables. However, the upcoming colder, wetter months will not be so inviting. When combined with the increased amount of people working from home, some of the city’s most loved smaller cafés and restaurants may not survive.
If we consider the Oude Kijk in Het Jatstraat, you don’t have to walk along for long to realise that the diversity and richness of food and drink on offer matches the dreams of the owners and co-founders. When chatting with these remarkable individuals, a surprisingly large number started from outside the catering industry.
For example, Anne and Barbara Froom were in their fifties by the time they opened their café and came from backgrounds ofphotography and insurance, respectively. “We had no idea what to expect,” admits Anne. “The average age of customers was well below half of ours.” Bij Britta began 6 years ago, after Anne and Barbara decided they wanted to start a small café focusing on homemade cakes. “We didn’t like the cakes from the wholesaler so Barbara said she would bake some herself,” said Anne. “She now bakes more than 2000 cakes a year!”
Just down the road is De Soepwinkel, which was started around 8 years ago by Corry Diertens, another inspired entrepreneur from outside the food industry. “I started working out my plan for a small lunch company, specialising in soup,” says Diertens. “You can go in all directions with soup. It is very international, a nice warm and light dish, and very healthy.” Again, homemade is a keyword here, and all of the daily soups are made using fresh and organic ingredients.
Keeping the friendly faces
These are just two examples of the diversity in flavours that are created when passionate people start a small business. And just because they are closed, that doesn’t mean that you can’t still support them. Following the increased restrictions of last week, both De Soepwinkel and Bij Britta are now offering online ordering and pick-up services, as are many of the other small cafes, juice bars, lunch stops, and restaurants around Groningen. Hopefully it will not be long until they can open their doors again. So, although the wind is getting icier and the nights are getting darker, keep that memory in your head of the tinkle of the shop-door bell, , the reach for your stamp card, and the familiar, smiling face behind the counter.