Brian Boucher & Esther Berger | Olives & More
In the middle of the busy Pretoriusstraat in Amsterdam Oost, you'll find
Olives & More
, a beautiful corner shop selling
(organic) olives, olive oil and other delicious goods, founded by Brian Boucher and Esther Berger. After selling their products at markets around the city for several years, the couple
decided to create a space where customers could buy freshly-made tapenades, pesto and hummus, uniquely prepared olives, and tasty olive oils from around Europe. By opening a shop, they
have fused their expertise (as a chef and project manager in the arts, respectively) to further drive their entrepreneurial spirits. We met up with Brian and Esther on a lovely sunny
afternoon to talk about how it's going and their plans for the future.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Brian: I’m a chef. I’m originally from Dublin, Ireland, and went to a professional school for cooks. For about 8 years, I worked in Dublin, Melbourne and London at five-star hotels and Michelin star restaurants. I was then introduced to Esther through mutual friends, and my life changed! We had been to Amsterdam a few times to visit Esther’s family and really liked the vibe here. We thought it was time for a change, and even though Esther had a job at a museum and I had a job at a restaurant in Ireland, we took a risk and it definitely paid off!
Esther: I lived in Ireland for 12 years. I studied fine arts and worked at the Irish Museum for Modern Art for two years as a mediator and assistant curator. Then I met Brian. When we decided to move to Amsterdam, we didn’t know very many people and had to build up our own networks. I worked at Galerie Martin van Zomeren for a short time to get my foot in the door of the Dutch arts sector, and then went on to gain work experience in the education department at Foam. I worked there as a project manager before becoming an assistant curator. After working at Foam for 5 years, I decided I wanted to work for myself. We have two children, Oscar and Aaron, and it was nice to create a good life-work balance.
You opened the doors of your shop, Olive & More on the Pretoriusstraat just a few months ago. Why olives?
Brian: When we first moved to Amsterdam I worked at the restaurant Envy 4 days a week. I was looking for something to do on the side. In Dublin I had worked at a specialty cheese shop called Sheridan’s Cheesemongers so I started a small business of importing Irish and English cheeses. It was going well but I wanted to sell the cheeses at the local markets. Since cheese was so well established, I looked further and saw that no one was doing anything with organic olives and olive oil. A friend of mine in Dublin had a good business selling olives and het put me in touch with contacts of his in France and Spain. Then I started selling olives at the Saturday market at the Nieuwmarkt. We started with 8 buckets and 6 different types of olives and tomatoes and now we have 22. We try to add a personal touch to the olives. People have become more discerning and more aware. They’re not willing to put up with second-rate things. They want the best. I can really stand over the quality of our products and be proud of that as well.
Esther: We prepare the olives as well. We have really great products from suppliers whom we know personally. The olives arrive in salty water and Brian soaks and rinses the olives, and marinates them if need be. The quality is there but you can have an influence on the end product, make it more your own. And it’s good to specialize. If you do too many things, you can’t devote yourself 100%. Now we can say, this is what we do: the core business is olives.
How did the shop come to be?
Esther: More and more people were asking if we had a shop, especially at the markets. We didn’t have our own space, a home if you will, and we were really looking for one. Brian was also looking for a new production space because the company was growing and the space we had wasn’t big enough. When we finally saw this place at the Pretoriusstraat we said, this is perfect. It all made sense. I didn’t have another assignment at the time so I said, let’s just make this happen together.
Brian: It’s also a very positive area. Everyone is very proud to be here and we have more freedom to express ourselves. We’ve had stands at the markets on the Nieuwmarkt, Zuidermarkt, and Pure Markt, which has helped us to build a client base. It’s funny because we’ve noticed that people in Amsterdam really stay in their part of the city. They say, “You’re in Oost now? Oh no! We have to cross the Amstel!” But they do come.
Esther: And we like to take risks, we don’t take the easy route. When things come your way you can either say yes or no, and this just made sense. It’s been nice making it happen and working on it together. Our customers know where to find us now and they come by for a chat.
Would you say that the city of Amsterdam inspires you?
Brian: We’ve been in Amsterdam for 8 years and you can definitely see how much it has changed. A few years ago it was so difficult to find a good coffee or a decent sandwich. The options were incredibly limited. Now there’s an awareness and appreciation for quality. People are willing to pay for it and take a risk. I think it’s because the Dutch are very open to travel but they tend not to stay away too long. And they bring things back. In that way, the city is very open. Expats and people from around the world fit into that culture easily. The city lacks a little of the cynicism of say, London or Dublin. People are quick to give you feedback here and you have to be open to constructive criticism. But people don’t try to put you down.
Esther: I think it’s in Dutch blood as well, ondernemerschap, or entrepreneurship. They’re a little stubborn, or stuck in their ways, and that explains why so many people are starting their own things. There’s definitely a do-it-yourself attitude. The Dutch have that confidence. If you look at Dublin, for example, people don’t have that confidence. In Holland you learn to speak up for yourself.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Brian: We get up early with the boys, and have a nice breakfast together if we can. Then it depends on what day it is. On a workday one of us will take the boys to the crèche and we'll go to the shop to work. Normally it’s a continuous process. I prepare what needs to happen during the week. Some olives will be in water and will be ready to be packed, for example. We also deliver our products to various restaurants and shops, including The Jane in Antwerp, Hotel de l’Europe, Restaurant Daalder, Envy and Baut. I make the tapenades, pesto and hummus so that everything's ready to go. Esther mainly focuses on the shop and our contact with clients and the press, and takes care of the administration. She also created our style with friend and art director, Lucie Pindat. Together they screenprinted our stationary and tote bags. The weekends are quite busy too with the shop and the markets. Right now, Mondays are family days. We’re still trying to find the right balance.
Can you name a few of your favorite places in Amsterdam?
We live in Oost so we have a lot of favorite places around here. We love Restaurant Merkelbach and Park Frankendael because it’s a child-friendly oasis in the city. If we’re lucky to arrange a babysitter, we might head out to Bar Bukowski for cocktails, or Kriterion to see a good film. We get coffee at Coffee Bru or Rum Baba. And we just had a lovely dinner at Restaurant Daalder.
At the moment we are just focusing on developing the shop, our presence at the markets and supply our products to restaurants, and continue what we do best at the highest possible level. Want to continue meeting and working with other passionate people in the city, and we would like to introduce other activities like tastings, summer apertivos and table d'hote in the shop. In the end it’s about being happy with what you’re doing. It’s about really creating something.
Thank you Brian and Esther for this interview! Follow Olives & More on Facebook , and find out more about the shop on their website . Olives & More is located on Pretoriusstraat 68, and is open from Thursday to Saturday from 11.00am to 6.30pm.