The opportunity to turn an empty office building into a hostel that appeal to young travellers has been a success for Tom Rietveld FCSI, as he tells Jon Horsley
Amsterdam is a hot tourist destination. But as thousands of young people descend there every week for food, culture and perhaps some debauchery, they might not expect that one of the best nightspots around happens to be in a value-for-money hostel in the suburb of Diemen.
After a successful refit of an office building Via Amsterdam, opened at the end of 2017, is turning out to be extremely popular and for much more than just its accommodation. The Dude, the hostel’s restaurant and bar area, is busy every single night.
“A couple of years ago there was a realisation that a lot of office buildings in and around Amsterdam were empty and the city didn’t expect them to be filled again,” says consultant Tom Rietveld FCSI, from HTC Advies. “So, they started to convert them for other uses, which is the sensible thing to do. Architect Oever Zaaijer designed this building to be a hostel and it has been transformed into something really rather nice.”
While the Via group has two successful hostels in London, one in Limehouse and one in Lewisham, this hostel had to be a little different and more ambitious because of its location, a few miles from the centre of town.
There are not many options for food or bars in the nearby area and while youngsters may travel into the centre to visit the tourist attractions, the operators realised that they wouldn’t want to take a half-hour subway journey there just to eat every night.
“In a way, it’s more interesting to work on a budget hotel out of the centre of town,” says Rietveld. “In the centre, if you just put a bed there, someone will rent it for the night. But outside the centre, you have to make things more attractive inside the hotel, you have to make people want to spend time there, but to do that you need 20 or 30 people to have dinner there every night or you can’t pay the cook.”
Working with interior designer Sheryl Leysner, Riedvelt and HTC set about designing a kitchen and restaurant space where young people would be happy to hang out.
“The owners – and me, are all fans of the film The Big Lebowski,” explains Rietveld. “So, we settled on The Dude [the main character’s name] as a theme fairly early on and I think it works. It has the right feel. I think the artwork and design that Sheryl came up with is excellent, some of it is beautiful.”
Rethinking the kitchen
Coming up with that overall concept was relatively easy, delivering it with the kitchen proved more difficult.
“The owners wanted a large kitchen with the best design, so we came up with a plan and took it to them,” says Rietveld. “Our ideas turned out to cost three times more than they wanted to spend. So, we had to go away and do a lot of rethinking. Actually I enjoyed it, it’s challenging and makes you think of ways around what you’re doing.
“We managed to do without certain machines then manage with others that were slightly lower quality. Then we took the designs to three different kitchen contractors and one of them gave us enough leeway to be able to work with. We managed to not compromise on the innovation and spend less.
As it is a hostel, rather than a hotel, there were ways to keep costs down even though food had to be available all day and until late at night.
“The guests eat a lot of food,” says Rietveld. “But they don’t really need a lot of service. So, we can do a basic breakfast buffet in the morning, where they serve themselves and clear the tables themselves. After that, we have coffee and snacks in one corner while we set up the burger project and menu for lunch.
“In the evening we can have a lot of dinner options and then a similar buffet to the one we use in the morning.”
There are two kitchen areas, one for pre-preparation and then a grill area where menu items are finished on Big Green Egg grills. The grills were brought in for added flavour, but also aimed at the Millennial hostel-using generation, who understand good food, but who also value dining adventures extremely highly. A hostel with an indoor barbecue fits the bill nicely.
“Young people want experience nowadays when they are eating,” explains Rietveld. “The ventilation for the grills cost a lot and the owners were not sold on the idea when they saw the price. But I thought the Big Green Eggs were really important to the concept.”
It’s fair to say the restaurant concept has been a success, William van den Berg, the general manager of the hostel is eager to sing its praises.
“We didn’t know how it was going to work, especially in the early days,” he says. The first weekend we opened the hotel we didn’t know what to expect. Right away we had seven hundred people through the door. We were unprepared and didn’t have enough staff ready.
“Now we are prepared and the food space is also working really well. The concept is great for us, we have ‘Dude’ burgers as well as poké bowls and things like that, which people love and they also give the space some identity.
“We have themed evenings around The Big Lebowski as well as normal karaoke or open-mic nights and they’re very popular. It’s surprising how many people come to the hostel and don’t leave. Or if they’ve booked in for a few days, they’ll go out for one of them and just stay around in here for the rest of the time.
“These young people are on a budget so they probably would have been satisfied with standard catering, but the twists we’ve given them and the different options have really worked and mean the guests love the place and want to stay here again. The kitchen fits very well with the kind of people who use hostels.”
Rietveld, who admits he used his 20-year-old sons as market research, is not surprised that it worked but surprised how appealing it has proved.
“We thought we’d have 30 or 40 people staying around there in the evenings,” he says. “It turns out most nights they host over 100. So, it has all worked out OK. I’m delighted there’s a place for them to go, have a good time and make friends.”