Elmer Oomkens & Francesco Grassotti | White Label Coffee
At the end of the Jan Evertsenstraat, across from the Mercatorplein in Amsterdam West, you'll find a coffee gem by the name of
White Label Coffee
. The duo behind the specialty coffee bar, Elmer Oomkes and Francesco Grassotti, started their
careers in coffee at Brandmeesters (in Haarlem and Utrecht, respectively) and met while working at the Espressofabriek in Amsterdam. Since then, they have fueled their entrepreneurial
ambitions and opened up a place of their own. A city escape with a Scandinavian aesthetic, the duo serves up delicious coffees made from home-roasted beans. We caught up with Elmer and
Francesco a few days before the first edition of the
Amsterdam Coffee Festival
, to be held in the north of
Amsterdam on Friday May 2nd and Saturday May 3rd.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Francesco: While studying in Utrecht, I was a regular at Brandmeesters, a coffee place in the center. I was there at least once a week, sometimes even everyday, and when a position opened up, I applied immediately. That’s how I ended up working in coffee. Starting as a part-time thing, it became more and more important to me. From there I went to work at the Espressofabriek in Amsterdam, and stayed there up until a few months ago. That’s where I really learned everything I know about coffee, and it’s where I met Elmer. Six months ago Elmer told me he wanted to start for himself, and he asked if I was interested in joining him. Starting for myself was something I wanted to do for a long time.
Elmer: I studied psychology. Towards the end of my studies I wrote a paper about the psychological processes of law and was fascinated by the combination of the two. I started studying law, did a few internships, and even applied to speak at an event at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. I didn’t get it and the next step would have been to write a PhD proposal. I realized I was missing something - there wasn’t one topic that I wanted to spend four years of my life on. So I decided to do something very different. I always liked coffee and I applied for a job at Brandmeesters as a store manager in Haarlem. While working there I met people who were working in the coffee industry in Amsterdam. They convinced me to apply for a job at the Espressofabriek, which I did. Coffee gave me a lot of energy. While before I was just writing papers and stuck in my own thoughts, I was now actively making something.
Francesco: I’m not sure. I’m half Italian so I grew up drinking coffee from a mocha pot – I even had one at university. But when I started going to Brandmeester I realized how good coffee could actually taste (Italian coffee is secretly not very good!) Italians are known to make a great espresso, but they once invented and stuck to it. They haven’t really experienced all the new developments that are being made in coffee today.
Elmer: I traveled a lot and I have always quite drawn to the countries where coffee is grown. I think it’s fascinating that it’s grown there but consumed here, and that it’s such an enormous process from the coffee plantations to the coffee we pour in our cups. And there’s so much you can do with it. I didn’t drink much coffee growing up but when I started drinking really good coffee, I couldn’t stop.
When do you decide to work for yourself?
Elmer: I was working at the Espressofabriek for a while when this just kind of happened. I really wanted to create something myself. I first had the idea to open a coffee bar/workspace with a friend of mine who’s a graphic designer. When we were leaning more towards pursuing the coffee bar aspect of it, we asked Francesco to join us. It became more about coffee and eventually we continued just the two of us.
Francesco: I always wanted to do something for myself. It’s so nice to work at a place that you’ve helped to create; it feels kind of like home. When I was working at the Espressofabriek, the idea of opening my own place felt very far away because I didn’t have the financial capabilities to do so, but when Elmer asked me if I was interested, I immediately said yes.
And how’s it going?
People have been really positive. Our parents have been very supportive, so have our friends and the people in the coffee industry. It’s interesting because people don’t just talk about the coffee, they’re also talking about White Label, the space. A friend of Elmer’s is an architect and he was interested in helping us out. We ended up basically giving his architecture firm the freedom to do what they wanted. We were in really good hands, and we’re really happy with the outcome. The interior compliments the name, White Label, which refers to a carte blanche, if you will, something that’s open to interpretation, that’s simple, and that stands for a certain quality.
Would you say that the city of Amsterdam inspires you?
Definitely, there are a lot of young entrepreneurs in the city at the moment. These are great times. We're curious to see how de Baarsjes in West and areas in Amsterdam East will develop in the next few years.
What does a typical day look like for you?
One of us usually gets up earlier than the other to set up and open in the morning. We don’t have agreed-upon times when we should be in. We think it’s important to come in when we’re ready to. For now, this works for us. The weekends are busier so we’re here more, but during the week it comes in waves. We roast at the Espressofabriek on Wednesday mornings. Since we don’t have our own roaster here (yet!) people don’t immediately know that we roast our own coffee beans, but we are keen on sharing that story with our customers.
Can you name a few of your favorite places in Amsterdam?
We often visit the Espressofabriek – we both worked there for a long time and we’re still great friends with the people there. You can also find us at Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters, we’re good friends with Onno van Zanten and Florian van Hessel. Francesco and Onno actually lived together for a little while. When we’re in East we like to stop by Coffee Bru or the CoffeeCompany at the Oosterdok. The coffee industry in Amsterdam is like one big family. Nationwide it’s actually a very close group of people. If you tell someone you work in coffee, there’s an instant connection. And in Amsterdam, we’re not each other’s competition. We’re sure that if we were both sick one day, we could ask Lex Wenneker of Headfirst Coffee Roasters to fill in for us, or if we run out of coffee we could borrow beans from Rick Woertman of the Espressofabriek.
A roaster! It’s expensive but that’s what it’s all about – roasting our own coffee beans. We hope to have one in the next few months. We’re also looking into collaborating with restaurants in the city. We hope to influence a new development that you can find both good food and good coffee in one place, which isn’t usually the case right now. Long-term plans include visiting coffee plantations and building up relationships with local farmers to try out new things together. But for now, we’re just going to focus on making sure things go well here!
Thank you Elmer and Francesco for this interview! Stop by White Label Coffee at Jan Evertsenstraat 136, open from Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 6pm. Don't miss Elmer and Francesco at the Amsterdam Coffee Festival on Saturday May 3rd, they'll be at the True Artisan Cafe from 4 to 7pm.