Elles Hagens | owner Bij Elles from Nieuwe-Tonge, NL

Star sign: Aquarius
Currently reading: Three books at once: Mythos by Stephen Fry, Zolang er leven is by Renate Dorrestein and a biography about David Bowie
Hopes her last meal will be: a large bag of fresh potato chips – her biggest guilty pleasure!

Elles Hagens has a hospitality business in Middelharnis called Bij Elles. People always ask her if she runs a restaurant, but that not quite it. Not only are they open for lunch, coffee, cakes, but they also have an evening meal (their take on potluck). In addition, they do a lot of catering for companies and parties for individuals.

When did you first know that this was your calling?

I studied law and enjoyed it very much. After I graduated, I worked for the government as a lawyer and policy advisor. It was only after my studies that I discovered that I really love cooking and eating well. For me that has always been connected with knowing what you eat and how it is produced in order to respect the environment and animal welfare. I discovered that I really enjoyed talking about this and especially cooking for people, to let them taste and enjoy it. Around the age of 40 I took the plunge and thought, “now I’m going to try it.” I always jokingly call it my midlife crisis.


How did you get your business off the ground?

I started by writing a business plan. This was more as an exercise for myself to see if all those dreams and wild ideas could be included in a real business plan. Then I began talking to people about it and noticed I got a lot of positive responses. Except of course from the banks – we were currently in a financial crisis and they were really not interested in lending money to a start-up catering company. That’s when I decided to set up a crowdfunding campaign locally. I ended up starting the company with money I borrowed from people in my network and beyond. That’s how excited everyone was about my idea. I also met my partner in crime fairly quickly. My colleague Karin, who is originally a graphic designer, has contributed a lot to design, appearance and inspiration in the kitchen.

Spread the love. I just like to be nice to the world around me; people, animals and nature.

What makes your company unique?

We are quite unique in the hospitality industry because everything (well, at least 90%) that comes out of our kitchen is homemade, without packages and bags. We also have a high quality standard for what we buy and don’t make ourselves. The bread, for example, comes from Bruinisse and is a unique natural sourdough bread made of wheat and purified Oosterschelde water and furthermore has absolutely no additives. We only sell what we stand behind and what we want to eat ourselves. Food that is good for people and animals – just to pull out a cliché.


What is the biggest challenge for you as an entrepreneur?

To stay true to my principles and still run a profitable business with pleasure. The day-to-day worries and financial struggles sometimes make it difficult to keep up the courage. Especially when I am busy running the company with too little in the kitchen to cook!

What inspires you to continue?

The nicest and sweetest customers, who so often show that they really enjoy our food and like to come to Bij Elles. And of course the unconditional support of my family, who all also cooperate.


What is your life motto / what mantra do you live?

Spread the love. I just like to be nice to the world around me; people, animals and nature.


How do you ensure a good work-life balance?

Yes, this can be a problem. It does not work so well when you are building a company. Fortunately, my husband and kids work a lot in the business as well and they also find it very fun. So we have a little bit of home at Bij Elles. But overall, this is my biggest challenge for the near future; it needs to be better. Sometimes I have the feeling that I am only THE Elles of Bij Elles.

How has the Corona virus affected your work?

The Corona virus came just when I decided it had to be done differently, like I said in the previous question. So I thought of it like, “the universe is telling you something.” Everything is different now; the restaurant is closed and we quickly dug into the takeaway and delivery market on Friday and Saturday. We were doing this already, but not on this scale. I am now more free during the week and I notice that I get more space in my head for new ideas.


What can people do to support you and others in your field?

Now that you can no longer eat out, it is nice to see which catering establishments in your area provide takeaway or delivery meals and order from them. Alternate a bit and let people know via social media that you ordered from them!


What are your plans for the future?

I have no idea how long this Corona crisis will have consequences for the hospitality industry, but I do know it will not become ‘normal’ again anytime soon. We are going to focus on takeout for the time being and come up with nice ideas, just like our brunch bag at Easter and eventually the ‘drinks bag’ for Saturday and Sunday afternoon.


Do you have tips for people who want to start a business (in this field)?

It is currently not possible, but try to arrange taster days at catering establishments that you like. Make a business plan that is as realistic as possible and be prepared to work a lot and very hard! Find your own signature: “why do people want to come to you?

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