With a large population of expatriates, Amsterdam is a melting pot of cultures. Founded in the Dutch city in 2019, roastery Dak Coffee Roasters caters to many clients, both at home and abroad, from the UK and Ireland to Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Co-founders Louis and Veronique, originally from Montreal, Canada, are partners in their personal and professional lives alike. The couple lived in Italy and the UK before moving to the Netherlands. They call themselves “outsiders who always try to discover new things.” Through our interviews, we set out to uncover what their identity is, and cast light on their journey of life.
One-stop shop for coffee experiences
It all started with a passion to work in the middle of the coffee supply chain. For Louis and Veronique, running a roastery provides a vantage point where they can see coffee’s entire journey, from the farm to the consumer. Dak Coffee Roasters has no brick-and-mortar location, and instead focuses on online retail and wholesale. The packaging of its products bears an illustration so unique that a quick glance is enough to recognize it as Dak.
“Customers often ask us if the illustration is a man or a woman,” says Veronique, who oversees marketing and branding. “We always tell them it’s up to them. We asked the illustrator to create a gender-neutral character. It helped us a lot in our early days because many people were first attracted to the logo before taking an interest in our coffees.”
As Dak seeks to deliver an affordable luxury – premium yet accessible coffee – branding and green coffee sourcing are the core essence of the business.
“Branding is very important for us to connect with customers. There are a lot of great roasters out there who source similar coffees to us. So we want to create an experience where every time people see our coffee, they recognize it as ours.”
The logo is not the only thing that’s characteristic of Dak. Its selection of coffee also speaks of its distinctiveness. The lineup ranges from coffees fermented like wine to canned cold brews for summer. Experimenting with new products is something Louis and Veronique have never shied away from, because “the diverse lineup is part of Dak’s identity,” says Louis.
“Some of our coffees can be too intense and funky to drink in the early morning,” he continues, “while others may not be the kind you can drink many cups of at once. We want to stay ahead and share new discoveries, and in doing so introduce people to many possibilities of coffee. We are trying to be a one-stop shop for all kinds of experiences around coffee.”
To offer such experiences more directly, Dak also takes part in events to interact with consumers in person. At the Amsterdam Coffee Festival in 2022, for instance, Dak deliberately brewed some of its more high-end coffees, including one from a Colombian producer who takes a special production approach. Visitors, upon looking at the price tag, questioned about the expensive cost for a coffee. Many of them, however, ended up buying it.
“This may not be the right way to put it,” Louis notes, “but people naturally ask questions when the price is high. And that’s an opportunity for us to explain the background of the coffee. We want to use coffee to take people on a journey to gain new knowledge and find new things.”
Journey of coffee
A journey of their own, meanwhile, dates back to a university where the two met in their final year. Back then, Louis was hoping to move to Europe after graduation. And soon, the dream of his became a shared path for the two. As Veronique decided to join Louis in his adventure, they flew to their destination, Milan, in 2014. After getting married in 2015, Louis started working in finance in London, while Veronique took up a marketing job. Then in 2017, they relocated to Amsterdam.
“We considered different places for where to live next, and we liked the vibes of Amsterdam,” says Louis. “There are lots of expats here, with a mixture of diverse cultures. So we felt welcomed and could see ourselves living here.”
A nation of tolerance, the Netherlands has long embraced immigrants, with its social systems designed to meet the needs of people from abroad, including tax incentives. Being able to get by in English was also a big boon for Louis and Veronique.
After moving in, Louis began a new career at a venture capital firm, and Veronique turned freelance as a marketer. Though neither had any experience in the coffee industry at this point, they gradually became enchanted with the depth of coffee as they started to enjoy a coffee break as their mutual hobby.
“As a student, Louis was a heavy coffee drinker who drinks one to two liters a day,” Veronique recounts. “I, on the other hand, didn’t drink coffee at all. But as we traveled around and visited cafes in our destinations, I became fascinated by the design of cafes.
In Italy, for instance, cafes usually have a high bar because people drink their coffee standing up. The places are designed to foster communication between customers. Meanwhile in New York, cafes tend to have tables so that people can work or read on their own. And cafes in Japan have minimal decorations to help people concentrate on their coffee without being distracted. I was intrigued by the differences of design that seemed to reflect each culture.”
The couple’s decision to launch Dak can be traced to Louis’s experience at a venture capital firm where he witnessed firsthand how passionate entrepreneurs were about their own business. Once, Louis and his co-workers made an acquisition offer to the founder of a company. The offer was worth a sum that would have set him up for the rest of his life. But he turned it down, and a heated argument ensued.
For Louis, the founder’s decision was hard to understand. Then, the founder told him: “This company is my whole life. I can’t leave it to someone else unless they run it correctly. And even if you could give me all the money in the world, I would probably start exactly the same business. So there is no reason for me to quit now.”
“That kind of passion was obviously something I didn’t feel as an employee,” Louis recalls. “He loved his business and poured his heart and soul into it. His powerful words pushed me to think that I might try it out myself.”
For Louis and Veronique, specialty coffee – and its diverse flavors representative of each origin – added an additional layer of vibrancy to their journey. Out of curiosity, Louis went on to take a one-week roasting course in Berlin. After a few attempts at roasting, he became certain that it was what he wanted to do – a moment that steered him farther toward a project of his own. “Everything happened naturally,” he says as he recalls those days.
In the summer of 2019, Louis and Veronique founded Dak Coffee Roasters in Amsterdam, a city where they’d already established their lives. With no sales contacts to count on, they had to cultivate a clientele from scratch. Besides, with their limited fluency in Dutch, the language barrier put them at a disadvantage in the domestic market. Dak would be a side business for the time being, or so they anticipated.
Contrary to their expectations, however, demand from overseas drove their business in its early going. Orders poured in, not only from countries with strong purchasing power like the UK but from eastern Europe as well. As a result, Dak started to expand its presence in the Dutch market, too. Though Veronique initially worked as a contractor at Dak, she began to become deeply involved in the decision-making process after two to three months. It was unimaginable for both of them to be working on Dak full-time within two years or so of the launch, Veronique says.
“So many people told us that working with a partner could be complicated. We were scared that working together could hurt our relationship. But once we took a stab at it, we realized that our strengths and weaknesses complement each other. We rarely get into an argument, either.”
Louis also cites their complementary skills as the reason why they’ve managed Dak’s steady growth while maintaining a good relationship as partners.
“If we don’t agree on branding, for example,” Louis explains, “I respect her opinion in the end because she is more knowledgeable and experienced. It goes the same way, vice versa. We don’t argue about things that are not our expertise.”
Having lived away from their homeland for eight years, the couple have shared everything good and bad and looked out for each other through the highs and lows. Since they had this solid foundation to start from, becoming business partners didn’t hurt their relationship; if anything, their bond has only grown stronger. While they have their own area of expertise, they also do plenty of jobs together, chief among them being sourcing and quality control. And here, too, their different personalities lead to great teamwork. Louis explains:
“Veronique is much more adventurous and gutsy than I am, when it comes to buying expensive coffees. And when I like something, I tend to get too excited and would buy too much volume of it if it was up to me. So she tones down my excitement and encourages me to have a wide offering of coffee while I question her whether a coffee that expensive is really worth the price.”
Now that the two co-founders have laid the foundation for Dak, they added two new members to their team – one is in charge of packaging and coffee recipes and the other an experienced sales account manager. Now as a team of four, respecting each other remains the source of synergy.
“When we hire someone, we look for people who are better than us at certain things,” Veronique explains. Louis adds that their goal is to be “a group of experts, getting the best people to do their best jobs.”
Absorbing different cultures
When you hear about their journey across borders, Dak’s diverse lineup of coffees start to seem like a gateway into a world of unknowns.
“People in different areas enjoy their coffee moments differently,” says Louis. “When I was in Canada, I would buy a cup of takeout and drink it on my way somewhere. Coffee was almost like a fuel to keep me going. But when I went to Italy, I realized that there was no concept of taking coffee with you. Coffee was more of an activity to enjoy yourself even for just five minutes, rather than something you drink while doing something else. Then in London, where flat white was all the rage, different shops had different serving styles. Every single place had a different experience. We want to share this coffee journey and mingle with different cultures.”
Both Louis and Veronique always seem accepting toward something foreign to themselves, perhaps thanks to their years of trying to assimilate into new surroundings.
“We always try to keep an open mind,” says Veronique. “I think we are very aware of differences around us. Though we felt different in many places, local people always accepted who we were and welcomed us nonetheless. So we try to do the same and embrace differences.”
Having absorbed various cultures as they traveled, where will they take Dak in the future? Veronique shared their long-term vision:
“We want to bring Dak into different cultures across countries and continents in the future. Maybe we’ll do pop-up stores around the world, like Japan, South Africa, and Colombia, or partner with local roasters.”
“Whatever the form, we will preserve our brand concept and approach,” Louis chimes in. “Our mission is to have a diverse range of coffees all the time and take people on a coffee journey.”
Veronique adds that people in some cultures prefer dark roasts, but that they would never “compromise on the essence of our business just to please certain markets.”
Going outside comfort zone
For Louis and Veronique, instead of searching for a place they can permanently call home, being on their journey is fun unto itself. Louis explains the source of their energy:
“I like to go outside my comfort zone. We’ve never been afraid of going into a different language or a different culture. I don’t mind changes in my day-to-day environment because the best place for people to understand themselves and grow is outside their comfort zone. Once outside of your comfort zone, you may find it difficult for a while. You may feel you are going to lose. But over time, you’ll figure it out and it becomes fun.
We also take our business outside its comfort zone and try new things. For instance, we released cold brew cans for the first time last year. But it was a complete disaster. It was difficult to ship them while keeping them cold. Some cans even exploded on their way. But as we prepared well this year, the feedback has been very positive.”
Will they eventually leave Amsterdam, a city they hold so dear, when they get an itch for yet another adventure, for an opportunity for further growth? “We always talk about that,” Veronique says.
“We’ll never be able to stay still. We get bored easily and we are not afraid to put ourselves in difficult situations. And the joy of overcoming challenges is addictive. It’s almost like a game for us.
But everything needs balance. You can go outside your comfort zone only when you have a place to come home to. Even if we leave Amsterdam one day, this city will continue to be a safe place where we recharge ourselves.”
Originally written in Japanese by Mieko Karube
Edited by Tatsuya Nakamichi
Photos by Keng Pereira
Veronique: My favorite coffee is always a washed Ethiopian I drink in the morning. And on weekends, Louis brings me a really nice cappuccino when I am getting ready. These are my favorite coffee moments where I get real comfort.
Louis: I really appreciate a weekend afternoon when I can take the time to lie down on the sofa and put my feet up in my pajamas with a book and a good filtered coffee. The coffee can be anything, whatever I feel like at that moment. I appreciate that one time in a week when I can take the time and drink a coffee slowly. That’s my favorite.