Directly opposite the bustling public square outside Rotterdam Centraal, where the ‘red carpet’ unfurls towards the heart of the city, is a glass building with big pink letters proclaiming: Jack Bean. Following a successful pop-up pilot, in 2019 the chain’s first two locations started serving their trademark fair, natural, nutritious food. Co-owners Mathijs Huis in ‘t Veld and Pepijn Schmeink first forged a connection in the battle against climate change. Together, they cooked up a vegan fastfood concept that’s also fast paving the way for eco-conscious food production and consumption.
MATHIJS, CAN YOU TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?
“After finishing my degree in business administration in Rotterdam I got my entrepreneurial start at a student temp agency, where we designed a new digital system. Eventually, I realized that doing business purely for money didn’t bring me joy. During a subsequent project de – veloping clean tech for tuk-tuks in India, I discovered that commercial enterprise with a social objective was exactly what I’d been looking for. ‘Doing business and doing good’ is what I’m after. Initially that took shape in a platform called ‘NL Voor Elkaar’ (‘NL for each other’) that I set up with my business partner Patrick, but af – ter a few years of that I stepped down to start Jack Bean with Chef Pepijn.”
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR JACK BEAN AS A VEGAN PLACE?
“Our six promises – 100% plant-based, fantastic flavours, locally produced, zero waste, impact first, and fair – stemmed from Pepijn’s and my shared idea that we have enough to feed people fairly and sustainably. After seeing the documentary Cowspiracy, I became convinced that the transition to a more sustainable diet needs to happen faster and more efficiently. Food is one of the easiest ways we can contribute to dialling back climate change at an individual level. I went out in search of someone who would be willing to take the hospitality plunge with me, and that’s how I found Pepijn. As a chef, he has always worked sustainably and had run a number of restaurants. Crazy as it seemed for a renowned chef to start a fast-food place, this fit with his idea of making it available to a broader category of people.”
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR SIX PROMISES?
“Our vision really spans the whole chain and is about feeding enough people in a way that’s future focused. Purchasing, preparation and minimal waste. Pepijn and I agreed from the outset that food should be healthy, tasty and nutritious. We serve burgers, bowls and salads. Our burgers are made with beans, grains and vegetables sourced from Hoeksche Waard. We work with a regenerative farmer, which is good for nitrogen uptake. Pepijn gets all the products in our central kitchen, cooks in large volumes and then sends the products out to our locations. So, as well as a plant-based menu, we also work with a local supply chain to minimize our footprint.”
HOW DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE?
“It was tough during the pandemic. We were in survival mode. But business has picked up since spring, so we’re very happy about that. We’re catering loads of events and business lunches in the neighbourhood. Last summer we ran a crowdfunding campaign to open a third location on Kinkerstraat in Amsterdam. Our plan is to roll out across the Netherlands, in places like Utrecht, The Hague and other university towns. We’re feeling really positive about the future.”
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH READERS OF RCD MAGAZINE?
“I hope people realize that ordering through delivery platforms is not actually a good thing for restaurants. If you really want to support these businesses, order directly from the restaurant or even go pick it up yourself. Hope to see you soon!”