Published in February 2015. Photos by Jessica Walter.
Occupation: Founder and chef at Sir Hummus
Length of time in Amsterdam: 2 years
What is your background?
I moved from Jerusalem to Switzerland when I was 14, lived there for a few years, then three years in New York, three years in Boston. After that I went to Rotterdam to study; I received a BSc in business and a MSc in IT, then I relocated to Amsterdam for a brief internship with Philips, and to London for a job. That’s where the idea of Sir Hummus began.
How did you make the jump from IT to hummus?
That’s an interesting story. After I lived in Amsterdam for a while, I moved to London to work for a big IT consulting company. I did that for two years and I was feeling a bit empty. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and a love for food. I grew up on hummus in Israel, and I was always looking for that flavour from my childhood. I couldn’t find it, especially not here. When I was at university, I started making it for friends, and all of my friends told me to make a business out of it. Fast forward to London. One of my friends told me about an amazing street food market called Maltby Street Market. We saw a spot and managed to get a table there to sell hummus. The consulting life meant travelling all week and coming home to sell hummus every weekend. That experience was so rewarding though. It validated a lot of uncertainties – I could make money from it, I was good at it, people love it and I get the business end of it.
After living like that for a year, I decided to take it to the next level. That’s when we decided to find an actual shop. Selling at a market is hard work and the weather is unpredictable. London is a nice city, but, honestly, the quality of life in Amsterdam is just so much better. Small things matter, like being able to bike safely to work without worrying about getting hit by a bus. And other aspects, like quality of air or quality of water. And I knew that there wasn’t a hummus “thing” in Amsterdam. It all just connected.
How has Amsterdam affected your business?
We searched for a shop space for one year. We looked at a lot, around 70, before we found this one. While we were doing that, we were also doing two other things as a business. We had a delivery service. Even if you ordered a €3 pot of hummus, we would ride our bikes to the other side of town to deliver it. We wanted to see how people would receive it and also to develop our brand. And we did a pop-up for almost two months in the summer, as well. It started slow but we were selling out by the end. The response was amazing. We’ve been getting nothing but love from the people of Amsterdam.
How easy or difficult has networking been for you, as an international, in Amsterdam?
I think networking is all about attitude, about how you present yourself. I know some influential people from my school, and they introduced me to some people in their networks. I met some great people that way, really nice people who are working in the industry; one of them helped us find a designer for the shop. The networking environment here is really welcoming, but it’s also that way because of what we do and what we want to accomplish. We didn’t come here wanting to be millionaires. It’s much more about creating something real that people want to eat. And people get it.
Do you have advice for new or aspiring food entrepreneurs in Amsterdam?
Try to connect with someone who has been through the motions, who can explain things. I started a small group of food and beverage entrepreneurs – you can find us on Facebook as the Amsterdam Food and Beverage Entrepreneurs. It’s not open to the public, but definitely to those who are a bit further in the process beyond having a dream. We try to meet on a regular basis and really open up about the good and the bad in this line of work.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
When you’re an entrepreneur, the work/life balance isn’t really there, at least in a traditional sense. What I’m doing doesn’t feel like work. I’m happy to do it. I wake up early and am ready to go. This is my life, this is my work, and they’re all intertwined in a really great way. Also, the food and music scenes, which are the two things I’m into, are usually going on at separate times, so there’s room for both. My brother is my business partner, so he can be there when I’m not. It takes some of the pressure off. It’s about sharing responsibility.
"It’s such a small city, that if you do something really well, people will find you."
Where would we find you on a Friday night?
If that Friday night would fall in the past year, it’d be under the covers, sleeping off the week. But normally, my favourite places to be in Amsterdam are the small jazz bars like Alto or the Bimhuis.
What about on a Saturday morning?
The area around Ten Katemarkt and Kinkerstraat. We do our grocery shopping there and then stop for a cappuccino and a nice cake. We have a few favourite cafes – Coffee Room is one of them.
Have you found any hangouts that are undiscovered gems?
It’s such a small city that if you do something really well, people will find you. There is one place in the East, though, called Rum Baba, that’s a really nice hangout. People in the east know about it but not many others.
What’s your mode of transport?
Are there any traditions you’ve carried from Israel to Amsterdam?
Yes, it’s about personality and attitude. The one word that pops into my mind to describe it is flexibility. Maybe daring? Going out on a limb to do things. It’s something that’s associated with Middle Eastern and Israeli culture.
Was there anything challenging about settling in after you moved here?
When I first arrived, the language barrier was challenging. But now, life is easy here. In a good way. We don’t have to worry about a lot. There are a lot of rules, but once you know what’s going on, it’s fine.