The second largest city in Belgium, Antwerp is known for its striking architecture and sophisticated yet friendly atmosphere. Artists, designers, and creatives from all over the world have chosen to make this capital of cool their home. Andy Roasters is in the trendy Zuid district in the south of the city, currently undergoing revitalization and where you can find some of Antwerp’s most fashionable restaurants, museums, and galleries.
Andy Roasters (Andy) was founded in 2020 by Antwerp locals Dave Haessen and Kjell Maes. After working several years in Melbourne in the coffee industry, both as a barista and as a manager, Dave opened the Australia-inspired Butchers Coffee shortly after returning to Antwerp in 2015. Now, Dave is focused on branding in partnership with LOBSTER, marketing, and recipe-developing at Andy, while also finding time to squeeze in some lessons on roasting, taught by head roaster Emiel Rymenans. We spoke to Dave to find out how coffee has fit in with his go-with-the-flow life philosophy.
The beauty is in the details
Social media and the internet have completely revolutionized the ease of connecting. Places which in the past we could never hope to see in a single lifetime, now we can visit at the click of a link. With the advent of video chat, we can not only speak with friends and family on the other side of the planet but see them through the screen. There is no denying the gifts technology has given us. And yet, we have also lost something in the process.
“It’s hard to be an explorer in our generation, I think. It’s hard to be adventurous. Everything has already been explored and you’re never more than one phone call away. I’d love to have lived in a time where you would leave your country, go somewhere, and then the only way of connecting is a postcard that arrives two months later. I often look at people that have traveled before Facebook, I think they were much more adventurous than myself.” says Dave.
That does not mean that the internet and social media have stripped away all sense of adventure. Adventure is what you make it, in how you live your life and approach your everyday.
“We’re always digging for hidden gems. Trying different traders, cupping as many coffees as we can to find one that’s more interesting. It’s like a Geisha. If you pay a lot of money, you can get exactly what you want straight away. It makes it easy to get something incredible. But if you just spend some time looking around, you can find a Geisha that’s equally amazing – for less money.
And for us, cupping 50 coffees to find that perfect one is a lot more interesting than just paying to get a Geisha that we know is good, without putting much effort. It’s the process, this digging for gems is where the adventure lies. It’s like how a DJ digs through their records or goes through the record shops to find that one perfect track.
One hidden gem that sticks out for me is Burundi Yandaro coffee. It was not super popular when we found it, but it was super popular in our shop. Coffees from Burundi can have the same great notes as Kenyan coffee, but they’re just a bit less common and you’re less certain. Which makes them all the more interesting.”
Playing around with coffee to understand it better is a huge part of the philosophy and brand at Andy, but Dave is also continuously actively learning more about all aspects of coffee. Experimenting at the shop and roastery, and making time for podcasts, magazines, and books all help Dave stay on top of the newest trends. As if he was not busy enough, Dave now has a weekly lesson on roasting with the head roaster.
“It is strategic, but it’s more out of personal interest so I do it in my time off. Learning the first 90% of roasting is easy. It’s that last 10% that is super hard. Getting from 90 to 100 can take 100 years. The beauty of roasting is in the details and I’m trying to get as good as possible. But as with everything in life, the more you learn something, the more you find out how much you don’t know.”
Andy has three coffees besides the blends: Fruity Washed, Fruity Unwashed and the classical flavored Not So Fruity. At Andy, the focus is on flavor and consumer experience, and so the processing method comes before the origin. This is the same whether they are helping a coffee-shop customer find their favorite flavor, or guiding a B2B client to the best profile for their business.
“When we have a new client, we sit down and try to find what their level of coffee knowledge is, what area they are in, and what customer base they are aiming for and make our recommendations based on that. For example, if they live more outside of the city, they have an older customer base. It’s safer to guide them to the Not So Fruity because it has more classical notes, which are better for an audience not very familiar with specialty coffee. Being able to give them the coffee that fits their target profile is what’s important.”
Coffee with hospitality makes for the ideal career
Celebrating, commiserating, or just catching up with friends – cafes, restaurants, and bars play an important role in the social life of Antwerp locals. And Butchers and Andy have been places where customers choose to share significant moments in their lives.
“For lots of people, an important part of their social being and their social life is sharing it with people. We have customers who visit our shops right after a major life event – getting married, having a baby, or even after the funeral of a beloved. We’re lucky that people often choose us to share these events and feelings. Coffee and hospitality are a very social thing. You touch people’s lives and I think the importance is often underestimated. I want to change that.”
When Dave entered the hospitality industry at 16, more than 20 years ago, it was not seen as a proper career. The wages were low and most people were working in a bar or a cafe while studying to eventually get a ‘real’ job.
But Dave was drawn to the energy he got from the social interactions and knew this was where he wanted to be. He worked part-time in the industry through high school and university, then decided to take on a full-time role in hospitality after graduating.
However, due to the perceptions of the industry, Dave did not see a future in a role where he could not feel pride in what he was doing. At 25, after considering his options, he decided to head to Australia for a couple of months.
He knew as soon as he arrived that this was the right decision. Australians had a much bigger interest in coffee than in Antwerp, and the coffee culture was very different.
This was most evident in Melbourne. From grabbing a morning brew on the way to work to sitting in a cafe for a slow afternoon cup, Dave was struck by how much coffee was a part of life in Melbourne. The city had such an energetic positive vibe that it was impossible to ignore and there was no doubt in his mind that this was the city for him.
Then the real eureka moment hit when he tasted his first espresso of a specialty roastery. Until then, Dave had only ever had commercial products. The flavor was a totally new experience. It was the moment when he realized this was how he could combine his love for a product with his love for hospitality, and it gave him a new direction.
Dave started off working in a restaurant. Later he became a barista, a junior manager, a manager at small- and medium-sized coffee bars, before becoming head barista at a large-scale specialty coffee bar.
“I noticed that in Melbourne, people were very proud of what they were doing. And in my opinion, all the businesses were better structured and there was more hierarchy. It’s more than just a bar. It’s a company where people can grow and enjoy working and have a great balance with their social life. And that’s what I wanted to have, and what I try to implement in my business.”
A bolt from the blue
Melbourne was the perfect city for Dave and there was nothing that could have persuaded him to return to Antwerp. He decided to apply for citizenship to make the move more permanent but before it could be processed, his visa ran out. A visit from immigration and the next thing he knew, Dave was on a plane back to Belgium.
It had been four years since Dave had said goodbye to Antwerp, and his unplanned return left him feeling less than positive about his future. In comparison to Melbourne, Antwerp felt smaller in so many ways. He had left behind a life full of potential and possibilities, and it was difficult to find a way to move on in the beginning.
But while Dave had been away, the coffee culture had started to develop in Antwerp. Almost as a way to keep himself busy and stop brooding on what-ifs, he poured his energy into opening up a new shop. The result was Butchers Coffee, a cafe inspired by the breakfast culture and hospitality industry of Australia.
When the shop opened in 2015, there were a lot of third wave coffee shops in Antwerp, but none with an Australian vibe. The unique personality gave the business a huge boost right from the start and it was not long before the cafe was a success.
Five years after launching Butchers, the increasing volume in coffee made roasting in-house the logical next step. Dave also wanted to get closer to the products, to get more involved with the process, and so he created Andy Roasters with Kjell.
“People have always asked me why I didn’t franchise. I think the most fun part of a business is creating something new from nothing. I didn’t feel like making more of the same. And opening a new concept is definitely something I’d like to try again. I don’t see any reason why I would leave the coffee business – but knowing myself there is always a chance that it could happen.”
Saying yes to instinctive living
Returning to Antwerp after Melbourne would have been the end of the adventure for most people. But not for Dave. It was a chance to explore a new path, to take the journey of life in a different, uncharted direction.
“Getting kicked out of Australia was a negative point in my life, but I see that as a lesson. Yeah, it was bad. But seven years later, I’m here talking to you. I own two shops and a coffee roastery. I have a beautiful daughter and a beautiful wife and friends that support me. So I’ve moved on from that.
If I had to leave Belgium and move to Japan, I could be very happy there too. After two hours in Japan, I’d already be looking for apartments. Then I’d go to a coffee shop, say, I can make coffee, and have a job like that. A lot of people who work with us have had that experience, not in Japan, but in other countries. Obviously language would be a barrier. But I think after a while you would pick up the right words. And you get a long way with a smile and being friendly. It wouldn’t be easy, but I think I would find my way around.”
Optimism, courage, patience, humility, consistency…all qualities said to make a great explorer and characteristics that Dave has in abundance.
“I definitely had and I still always have doubts. If you do something different than most people, then sometimes it’s scary and you don’t know if you’re doing the right thing. That never goes away. But the older you get and the more pieces of the puzzle fall into place, the more confidence you have in the direction you choose.
I consider myself a person always willing to say yes and give things a go. You could say I’m a ‘yes man’ in that sense. I think a lot of decisions in my life are not pre-decided. They’re not pre-thought. I like to follow my path and see the positive things, and somehow it got me into this position, a position I never thought or dreamed I would be in. So I think I will stick to that tactic for a while.”
No matter how advanced technology, or how convenient our life, there is always the chance for adventure. Yet Dave has never set out to create adventure. The adventure came from always moving forward.
“I love to learn. I love to evolve. I want to get better every year. And I think that, combined with hard work, you naturally create adventure. The one thing I love in life is I want to look back every year and see how I’ve gotten better at something or tried to evolve at something. And that’s not only in business. Whenever I go to a city alone, or with my wife, from the first hour we start dreaming of living there. I’m sure I won’t be living in Antwerp for the rest of my life. I’m positive that definitely I want to live in another city another time.”
Text: Tatsuya Nakamichi
Photos：Marina Chef @marinachef
When I'm home on Saturday, and I don't have to work, and I’m just drinking a cup of coffee for the sake of a cup of coffee and nothing more. That for me is the best moment for coffee. No flavor wheel in my mind, taking my time, enjoying the slow ritual of making an AeroPress at home. I love it.