Jeff Flink | TOKI
New to the Amsterdam coffee scene,
is a cool Scandinavian-meets-Japanese cafe with design accents from around the
world. Nestled on the corner of two quiet streets in the Jordaan, right around the corner from the Haarlemmerdijk, it's the perfect go-to before heading to the Noordermarkt on a
Saturday morning. But don't be fooled; even though they serve Berlin's famous Bonanza Coffee, TOKI is much more than a coffee place. Founded by former adman Jeff Flink, the hangout
boasts pastries from the neighborhood's Petit Gateau, local homemade granola from G for Granola, teas from Brooklyn's Bellocq Tea Atelier and beers from London's Crate Brewery. True to
its Japanese meaning, 'the time when some states or actions exist or occur', TOKI (とき) invites us to catch our breath, relax and enjoy. We met up with Jeff to talk about
what's it like to open your own place after years and years of daydreaming and his plans for the future. -
Text and photos by Margot van der Krogt
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m Jeff. I’m actually from Hilversum but have been living in Amsterdam for more than 15 years. I moved here to study business and graduated from university with a specialization in Brand Marketing. After traveling around Asia and New Zealand for six months, I started working at eBay. From there I got into advertising and never left, until now.
What inspired you to start TOKI?
When I look back, I think it’s something I’ve always thought about. I’ve always been the one to hang out at nice coffee places and restaurants. I often go on city trips and seek out the best places to grab a drink, a good meal or just relax. So it was something that had been on my mind for a while but I had never seriously considered it. Then about five years ago, I starting writing down my ideas, sourcing inspiration for the interior, and researching products I would want to sell. Last year I took one day a week off from work; it was the first real step towards realizing this place. I started scouting locations in the city, working out my concrete plans, and when I realized that one day wasn’t enough, I finally said, that’s it, I’m going for it. That was last December. And now, we’re here!
TOKI is more than a coffee place, isn’t it?
Yes, TOKI is about taking a moment to catch your breath, to relax and to enjoy yourself. I’ve tried to create an environment that’s inviting and relaxing. TOKI isn’t a coffee place or a bar or a lunch café; it’s a hangout. For a lot of people, a cup of coffee is what they need to relax before continuing with their day. But I think tea is great for that and so is a good beer at the end of a busy day.
How did you decide on the name?
I wanted a name that was fun, that wasn’t complicated and would have a link in some way or another to the hangout concept. I spent a whole day at the library at some point looking through a Japanese dictionary and eventually left with 20 potential names. TOKI stuck with me; it means time, opportunity.
Can you tell us about the different products you serve?
I’ve been very careful to select products that I really believe in. And I wanted to gather products that can’t easily be found here in Amsterdam. The coffee is roasted by the guys over at Bonanza Coffee in Berlin. They’ve been around for years but after all of this time, continue to improve their business – it’s impressive. The tea is from Bellocq in Brooklyn, New York. They have more than 100 different kinds of high-quality teas – and the packaging is great. I’m currently serving beers from Crate Brewery in London but thinking of branching out with a Japanese beer, a Danish beer, and a South African beer. I also have a few other bottled drinks like a John Lemon lemonade, a ginger beer, and a classic cola. And I have granola from G for Granola by Amsterdam local Sarah Napier - I’m a granola-in-the-morning kind of guy!
So what does it take to set up your own place? Did you run in any obstacles along the way?
Oh yes, plenty of them. Since it had been something I had spent years and years dreaming about, it was hard to get all my thoughts down on paper. And it was challenging to present all my ideas in a way that other people would get it, and eventually invest in it. In the end, I didn’t write a thousand-page business plan but worked all my ideas out in a presentation. This made it easier to engage in a dialog about what it was and what it could be. When the money side of it was all taken care of, I had to look for a location and that wasn’t easy either. The space would really make or break it. Eventually, I was lucky enough to find this space in the Jordaan, right around the corner from the Haarlemmerdijk. But it definitely wasn’t easy, I feel like I ran into one obstacle after another. I guess you could say it really was one of those ‘blood, sweat and tears’ kind of stories.
Do you think that your background in advertising influenced the decision-making?
I guess so. During my last few years working in advertising, I was drawn more to branding and design, to creating concepts as opposed to commercials. With TOKI, I was able to develop my own concept and create my very own space. I was very conscious of the atmosphere I wanted to create at TOKI: a Japanese meets Scandinavian style that still exudes a certain kind of warmth. Even though the interior is quite white and clean, it’s still inviting – both younger and older people have told me they feel welcome here.
But you have made some pretty bold design choices.
With regards to the visual design of TOKI, so the website, logo, the cups, etc., I worked with HarrimanSteel , a design studio that recently relocated to Amsterdam from London. I was drawn to their international appeal (they work for brands like Converse and Nike) and felt like we could create something together that wasn’t your typical coffee joint look-and-feel but something more than that. The smiley evokes a positive vibe and refers again to taking it easy. It’s fun! And if you look around the place, you’ll see some designer pieces, like the incredible sofa by LA-based furniture designer Stephen Kenn and the marble top, Marmoreal , by Max Lamb and DZEK , both in London. I first discovered it at the Soho House shop in London and knew I had to get it.
Let’s not forget the floor!
Yes, the blue floor, I think it’s refreshing! I was determined to keep the walls white and clean but wanted to mix things up with the floor. And I’m so happy I did, the contrast with the other materials, like the bamboo bar and the marble table, makes everything in here pop. It’s a little different, but I like it.
You’ve been open for two weeks now. How’s it going?
It’s been great. I’m just so humbled by all the great responses so far. I tried to set zero expectations – I had heard from others that it could take a long time before things would pick up and that you had to be patient. And that’s true but I get so much energy from the people who walk in the door and say, “Wow the coffee is great!” or “What a beautiful space!” I really can’t believe it’s going so well.
What are your days like?
They’re long (laughs)! During the week we’re open at 7.30am so I get up at 6am when my girlfriend and my kid are still sleeping. I’m here at around 6.45am, turn on the machines and get everything up and running, and head over to Petit Gateau to pick up the pastries. After I open the doors open I’m here all day, making coffees, chatting to customers and people who pass by. When I shut the doors after a long day, I crack open a beer and take the time to enjoy it before closing up for the day. It doesn’t feel like hard work now that I’m working for myself, and I’m working in a space that I designed and put together myself – it’s like a second home. It doesn’t tire me out but gives me energy.
And do you have big plans for the future?
I want to focus on getting things right at the moment. I’m happy right now, and I want to keep things chilled out. Eventually I want to work with more people – it would be great to get a good barista on board, for example, and other people who are interested in beer and tea, who are positive and want to have a good time. When that’s the case, I hope to create a little more time to focus on continuing to grow. We have a great kitchen here so it would be great to introduce lunch (maybe two or three dishes) and, at some point down the line, have afternoon drinks from 4 to 8pm on Friday evenings to just hang out and relax. But it has to stay fun and relaxed. After all, TOKI is a hangout.
Thanks Jeff for taking the time to meet us! The website will be up soon but in the mean time, follow along on Facebook and Instagram .