Maaike de Reuver wants to challenge your taste buds
Enjoy more than a cheese roll and glass of milk for lunch. We Canteen is shaking up WTC lunch habits and bringing in an international twist.
Photography: Anne Lakeman
Maaike de Reuver says she still can’t believe that a company she began at the age of 22 is now serving up hundreds of lunches a day in the WTC. It is just after midday and a steady stream of people are heading past the light bulbs spelling out We Canteen. It is particularly busy round the salad bar, there is queue for stuffed pita bread and the smell of bread drifts over the counter.
Six years after the launch of the company and two months after the start of operations in the WTC, Maaike is checking out progress so far. She stepped down from active involvement earlier this year, but remains focused on scouting for new ideas and culinary inspiration. ‘It’s all about choice, and quality and taste,’ she says, gesturing around her.
Yes We Can
The idea for We Canteen came about by chance. Maaike and friend Charlotte van Leeuwen were both students at the University of Amsterdam and, while travelling, ended up in Singapore where they became fans of the food court concept. When they got back to the Netherlands, they decided ring up the university and tell those in charge that they knew how to improve the catering.
‘We rang up and told them what we wanted to do and amazingly they agreed we could do it for a week, in between contracts,’ says Maaike. ‘Things moved very quickly from then on. We were phoned by people who wanted to join in. Since then, we have never looked back.’
The name comes from former US president Barack Obama’s famous ‘yes we can’ campaign slogan. ‘We didn’t have a name for a while and then someone came up with ‘Yes We Canteen’. We were big Obama fans at the time,’ she laughs. The name, changed after a year to We Canteen, also illustrates the enthusiasm and determination with which the company came into being.
On graduating Maaike and Charlotte set up in business and moved in with the Rockstart startup team. The concept developed further and created considerable waves within the sector. That drew them to the attention of D&B The Facility Group, which took We Canteen over three years ago. Today We Canteen counts TomTom, BinckBank and shared office provider BrightOffices among its clients as well as the WTC.
Maaike’s five tips to start up in business
Believe in yourself
Tell your story
Make that phone call
Take it step by step
Choose your advisors carefully
The companies which provide their services to We Canteen range from Japanese sushi to super food salads, from Mexican wraps to hotdogs with a difference. There are, however, strict conditions to qualify as a We Canteen company. Most importantly, you have to work with local products as much as possible, says Maaike. ‘Take a Vietnamese caterer,’ she says. ‘It would be daft if they brought their bread and chicken in from Vietnam, but of course, the herbs and spices you might have to buy there or you might hurt the concept.’
But key to the We Canteen concept is the choice. ‘I like Asian food but I don’t have to eat it every day,’ Maaike says. ‘Some days all you want to eat is bread, on another day soup. The great thing about our offering here at the WTC is that you have such a choice. You can try out new things every day.’
‘The WTC is a business hotspot and we hope to help transform it into a culinary hotspot’
The international approach at the WTC is a great match with our concept, she says. ‘We have the basics – fresh, locally made soup, plus bread and the usual toppings. But every day you have choice of two or three other concepts. There is something for everyone. It’s a really low threshold way to try something you might not think about if you are going out for dinner. Always wanted to try Mexican food? Here you can. And of course, if you think of a type of cuisine we don’t yet have, we are always open to suggestions.’
We Canteen is also supplying the banqueting for the new look Conference Center, run by the Office Operators, and will also provide the catering for inter-company business meetings. ‘We’ve got 350 different companies on our books, so if you have clients coming over from Costa Rica, we can provide a South American lunch,’ she points out.
We Canteen is, of course only one of the five new concepts here in the WTC since the catering overhaul began earlier this year. Ultimately Maaike hopes that We Canteen will draw people from the rest of Zuidas and from Amsterdam at large.
‘We want everyone in Zuidas, everyone in Amsterdam, to come along and taste what we have on offer,’ she says. ‘The WTC is a business hotspot and we hope to help transform it into a culinary hotspot. Everyone should know about the exciting things going on here.’
And as for lunch? Maaike checks out the soup of the day, the fresh salads, the tasty stuffed pita breads provided by the Pita Queens and Vietnamese delicacies courtesy of the Banh Mi Girls. ‘A bit of everything,’ she says.
This article was first published in WTC Today Spring issue of 2017.
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