A team full of stars does not make a world champion

Bob Meijer is co-owner of Brasserie Group, a name that is more or less synonymous with the Leiden hospitality industry. Together with his companions, Johan Klerks and Guido Verschoor, he manages the five establishments where the brand is now strong. The branches are part of the same entity, but each has its own character. Bob tells us more about the philosophy behind the company and what makes the work fun.

How did you get into the hospitality industry?

‘At 21, I started a snack bar. At first, the snack bar belonged to two older people. Drinking a beer with a bag of chips. That is all it was. But this was 29 years ago, the time before the internet. At that time, they also didn’t have the big delivery services that we are familiar with today. So there was something of a gap in the market there. I took advantage of it by (successfully) delivering to nearby businesses. After all, where people are working overtime, they are also eating chips. A few years later, I was able to sell it for a handsome sum.’

"My heart overflows with pride when they join our company a few years later and do incredibly well."

So the entrepreneurial spirit has always been there?

I see it more as taking opportunities. This is the first opportunity that came my way. Three years later, I closed the door of the snack bar behind me. I had a bag full of money and a bucket full of experience.

Ready to start your next hospitality adventure?

Well, not right away. I actually wanted to be a teacher and almost applied for the PABO. ‘Almost,’ because I never got beyond the application form. Not that the ambition wasn’t serious, but that wasn’t the right time in my life. Maybe that will come again later. However, Johan and I do try to give that pedagogical side a place in the Brasserie Group.

How exactly does that manifest itself?

In different ways: every now and then I organise a workshop for VMBO classes in the neighbourhood. It’s quite common for these young people to have low self-esteem because, for example, they won’t study science. If you ask what they want to do later, they tell you that they would also like to be the boss of a restaurant. ‘But they can’t,’ they then add, ‘because they are not smart enough.’ The opposite is true, of course. Being smart expresses itself in different ways. I myself only did MAVO. My heart floods with pride when they join our company a few years later and do extremely well.’

In addition, a boy with Down’s syndrome works with us. People in the Netherlands are still remarkably difficult about that too: ‘it’s good that they work somewhere, but surely not in a real company?’ Nonsense, of course. On the contrary, I want such a boy to get a taste of real life. And – surprise, surprise – he makes himself indispensable in no time. I have more examples like that, but what I want to say with this is – to make a comparison with football – a team full of star players does not immediately make a world champion either. Not that this boy is not a star player, but we don’t want that uniformity. The Brasserie Group celebrates diversity. The difference between people. You can see that in our team, our customers and the big differences between our establishments.’

"You can have an image of who you are as a company, but sometimes you just need someone who knows how to show that to your customers."

Do Commandos suit you in that aspect?

That relationship has existed for a long time. A very long time. Brant worked with us as a cook when he was at the Graphic Lyceum. He was still searching at that time, but’ Bob says with a laugh, ‘he did find love then. He is still together with Monique. She also worked here then. I like that. When he started his own business with Ramon – and later with Sjoerd – it didn’t take long before we started working together. We like that very much. I can still remember that we once spent a fairly intensive day defining our core values and working out our vision. They helped with that perfectly. You can have an image of who you are as a company, but sometimes you just need someone who knows how to show that to your customers. And – this will be a bit of Sjoerd’s background – that included a comparison with a car brand.

Which brand was that?

Volkswagen: luxury in a way that is both tasteful and accessible. In terms of sustainability, that club is also more on the right track these days, fortunately. We were a step ahead of them there, I think.