To distinguish your food service concept, you have to do something different from the rest. That’s exactly what entrepreneur Mark Nijhuis has done with his blurring concept, ‘De Wit Wasserij’ in Nijmegen (The Netherlands). "Our combination of a launderette with a doughnut shop is unique. The customer can do some laundry, drink a coffee and enjoy a doughnut with the ambient sound of our washing machines in the background." That’s not the only way in which Mark's concept is unique. Every year, he helps twelve people with poor job prospects make the move into paid work in Nijmegen.
Blurring by doing
“Over the past fifteen years, people have been eating or drinking out more and more. In the past, the food service industry played mostly an evening role and one seldom ate out for lunch; at most you ordered a piece of cake with your coffee. Nowadays, people go out for almost everything, starting with breakfast.
We even prefer to hold meetings and work in food service establishments, rather than at the office." According to Mark, that’s how blurring came about. "Blurring concepts are innovative combinations between retail and food service, like a barber shop with a lunchroom or shoe shop with a café. It gives your business that little extra and helps you distinguish yourself from the competition.”
Let’s do nuts
De Wit Wasserij opened in February 2017. The idea to combine a doughnut shop with a launderette came about during a trip to Canada. "My girlfriend and I were in need of some really good coffee. On the advice of some local people, we ended up in a very nice café inside a launderette. I had never seen that combination before! We then spontaneously decided to do our laundry." Once back in the Netherlands, Mark couldn’t get the concept out of his head. "I thought it was so cool that I wanted to set up a similar concept in my home town. I thought that, if I were to put washing machines inside a catering business, customers would probably use them just like we did in Canada. It was a gamble, but it paid off! "The decision to combine the concept with doughnuts was an easy one to make,” says Mark while laughing. "A specialty shop selling doughnuts didn’t exist yet in Nijmegen. If doughnuts are your specialty, then you really have to make sure that you have the very best. That’s why all our doughnuts are freshly baked every morning. It’s something you can really taste!”
Let it spin
According to Mark, you have to factor in some extra 'landing time' if you start a blurring concept. "It takes a while before people realise what your concept is all about. At first, people weren’t able to understand that you can actually do your laundry here. Some people even thought that the washing machines were there for the decoration. Every day, people pass by and then literally take a couple of steps back to peep into the shop. You then see them reading the business name again and the penny drops and they think: "Oh, this is actually a launderette.”
Fortunately, the shop’s fame is growing every week, which is also thanks to Mark's own proactivity. "In the first weeks, I went to visit fellow entrepreneurs in Nijmegen to ask how they do their laundry. I then asked if they would let us do it for them just once. It saves them a lot of work and it’s not as expensive as people think. Since that time, we now do laundry for several restaurants, nail studios and gyms in the neighbourhood. So far, our washing machines are the concept’s biggest success. In fact, from a turnover point of view, we are actually ‘spinning’ on our washing machines. Turnover from laundry alone increased by 80% compared to last year. On Saturdays, there are even queues for the machines. The nice thing is that, in Nijmegen, there wasn’t necessarily a need for a launderette, but now that it’s here, people enjoy using it and see our business as a fun and inspiring place.”
The greatest challenge at the moment is selling the doughnuts. Fortunately, Mark sees many opportunities here. "We already sell a lot of doughnuts at other food service companies and we have a cool mobile doughnut bar that we use for catering and weddings. But that’s really still in the development phase. I think it would be interesting to add a number of savoury variants including, for example, bacon and cheese. And I would like to introduce a 'dronut' as a PR-stunt. Can you imagine that? Our doughnuts delivered all over the city by drone?!”
Mark’s business goes one step further. In addition to founding a doughnut shop/launderette, he is also a social entrepreneur. From De Wit Wasserij’s inception, Mark knew that he wanted to help people with poor job prospects. His goal is now to help twelve ‘apprentices’ every year into paid work. "That’s another reason why I chose doughnuts. If you focus on a single product, you can easily teach someone without cookery or bakery training how to make it. You can’t do this if your business is offering more than fifty different products." Those who prefer not to specialise in the shop or the bakery trade can opt for the so-called ‘laundry route’. "This group picks up the laundry from the various companies in the region on an electric bike, washes it and returns the clean, folded laundry back to the client. It may be lowbrow work, but I sincerely believe that, for someone without qualifications, someone who has problems with the language or who is a refugee, it’s a good way to get safely started in a city like Nijmegen. In a year, our apprentices are also able to develop their own network in the city so that they can then get a job more easily in a familiar environment.”
What you notice straight away is that it’s impossible to tell that it’s a social enterprise. This is intentional, Mark explains, "I have deliberately not put up a 'social entrepreneur' sign. I want people to be proud of working here and not be ashamed of it. It’s not necessary for them to have a different background from mine. I make sure that there are never two apprentices working behind the displays at any one time. When a customer comes to drink a coffee here, he/she doesn’t have to be inconvenienced by the fact that inexperienced people are being trained. We are a company for everyone.”
Inspired by De Wit Wasserij? You might also be interested in our article about CODA dessert restaurant in Berlin or the unique floral concept Cokoa in Brussels.