Moving across to the other side of the world and opening up a successful restaurant is a dream to a lot of people. Not Alex Than Aye and Yudhi Srinivasan. These two young Aussies packed their bags and moved to Amsterdam to open up Box Sociaal. Only 6 months old, this new contemporary restaurant that focuses on Australian style brunch and signature dinners is already extremely popular among locals and tourists alike. Bridging the culinary world of the Netherlands and Australia, we sat down with Alex to discuss setting up business in Amsterdam, what makes Box Sociaal stand out and what are his favourite ADE parties and hotspots in the Dam.
- Tell us about Box Sociaal, how did it start?
I’ve travelled a lot from a young age. I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures and cuisines. My business partner and I have been friends for many years. Like all good friends had ideas and dreams, but had never crossed paths where it was the right time for both of us. We both met up when we were back in Sydney by chance and within a week we had moved in together!
We were both working out what we wanted to do but knew we both wanted to start something. We looked at the industry in Australia and after a few months realised it wasn’t for us.
Our backgrounds were both in food. We were looking at options all over the world and thought Amsterdam would be the perfect location. as first of all, there are opportunities for Australians with regards to passports but mainly there is a lot more opportunity and scope to build a project like Box Sociaal.
- So why come over from Australia to Amsterdam?
We’ve been coming to Amsterdam for many years and love the city. Our joint thoughts were that although we loved coming to Amsterdam when it came to eating and drinking, the city seriously lacked depth and interesting dining opportunities. No one thinks of food or beverages when they come to Amsterdam. Everyone has preconceived ideas of what they want to experience with the cafés etc.
With the rise of Australian brunch and modern kitchen culture, we thought that Amsterdam is a high socio-economic city full of people, full of expats and tourists. Higher earners demand better quality and higher-end products but for some reason, it wasn’t here. Looking at the success of young Australians and what they have done with this idea, New York is a big inspiration with great cafes like Five Leafs, Banter and Two hands. They have really taken over the coffee and brunch culture in New York. They’ve brought that Aussie style to it.
3. How does Box Sociaal stand out from other cafes in Amsterdam?
Amsterdam shares all these similarities but they don’t have the cool, mid-range dining which is what we are trying to offer. The coolest thing for me personally, living in cities like Sydney, Melbourne, London is that you have all these different types of foods and culinary options at our doorsteps now. We work on building our business in Amsterdam as being very sustainable. Although we are a business and need profit to build, we work on giving back to the community and looking after our staff in the right way. Turning away from big business ideas and focusing on our Box Sociaal community and having it as a home away from home, but the last thing I want is Kangaroo Burgers and VBs, etc getting served. For us, it’s about quality and that’s what people notice.
Look the Dutch aren’t stupid at all, a lot of them have travelled to Australia and seen how we work. They know a little bit about it in terms of knowing that high-quality food is coming out of Australia but more importantly high-quality service. What Amsterdam and the Netherlands are quite renowned for if you ask any locals, is that service in this country doesn’t exist. I thought it was really strange, but you can ask anyone in this city. It’s hard to pinpoint why. Maybe because it’s not a very high paying and prestigious role unlike in Sydney where you have highly qualified restaurant waiters, bartenders, and baristas. Here you are most likely a student or it is a part-time gig unless you are working for a 5-star hotel.
That is what we are changing. Not being the silver spoon, but is that place where you walk in and instantly feel at home. You feel welcome. A place that I want to be in. That’s what most people get from Aussie run restaurants. That banter that makes you feel comfortable!
4.Who comes to Box – Locals or Expats?
It’s pretty amazing. I never wanted this to be a place for tourists. The area we chose is not in the middle of the city or in the hipster area. It’s in an up and coming, family / young professional area and we chose this on purpose. It’s still very close to the city centre. I didn’t want it just to be for tourists. You have to start your business working with the local community and connecting with them. I think with any good restaurant if the locals are around and keep coming, you know you’re doing something right!
5. How about the food, do you focus on a particular cuisine?
This is the most common question we get asked. We are always trying to look at the similarities between the Netherlands and Australia. Neither of us has a distinct food culture. What we do have, is an amazing sense of multiculturalism. With both nations, we get our food culture from immigrants and different food varieties out there.
We take the best from all the nations that have come to Australia. Taking there best ideas and produce. Making it our own and making something amazing.
Our dinner menu is the food we love to eat. We’ve both travelled a lot and eaten. If you look at our menu now you will see a variety all day and night. Our famous Mortgage on Toast, (avocado on toast), Shack Attack (Shakshuka) and classics like Eggs Bennie. We also Incorporate Dutch classics like the Stroop Waffle. Our mixologists make some amazing espresso martinis and other cocktails. We aren’t the kind of place that gives you a gin and tonic with a sprig of rosemary and calls it a cocktail or calls a rum and coke a “Cuba Libre.”
6. With ADE coming up, is there a favourite artist you’ve seen whilst in the Netherlands?
Umm, favourite artist I’ve seen in the Netherlands was actually at ADE 4 years ago in 2014. I watched Solomun, in what is now one of his most famous sets on the web.
7. Is there a party you are going to attend during ADE?
At my age, my body can only really focus on one party at ADE! This year it’s going to be Lee Burridge. All Day I Dream daytime party with Seb Leg.
8. For the broken ADE party goers, is there a particular brunch meal you’d recommend at Box?
First of all, come and smash a Bloody Oath, Sambal Mary. It’s our take on the big Indonesian influence. We make our own Sambal for the Bloody Mary mix.
Straight after hit a Kata breakfast sandwich which in Dutch means “Hangover Sandwich”. It is the ultimate hangover feast. Sausage Patty, Bacon, Hash Brown, Cheese and Egg all inside a pretzel bun with homemade ketchup. All homemade. Or the vegetation option with roasted portabella mushroom, halloumi, and hash browns!
9. So what’s next for Box Sociaal, any music plans?
We do actually, we have a lot of friends who are artists who are very much in the cultural scene. A few of our staff are in bands and we had our first event here the other day with an amazing chef, he’s the sous chef at Librije, a 2 Michelin star restaurant in Amsterdam. He did a 5-course dinner with matching natural wines for 50 people last week which went really well.
Finally after only been open 6 months we can finally start finding our feet and be comfortable to look to scale Box Sociaal. Big things coming! Ideally, we’ll have live music or late night disco parties. We don’t have a huge space but lots of opportunities.
It is a cool interesting time and I can’t wait for the next steps. Who knows, maybe Scandinavia
10. What are your local hangouts in Amsterdam?
I have a few favourites. Because of the canal and lifestyle along the water, the best places are the bars on the water. My favourite is Roest which is an old factory warehouse that’s been converted into a cool hippy style beach bar with sand on the canal to make a beach. You can ride your boat up there and at night it turns into a nightclub. Love that place! I also really like De Waterkant which is another really cool bar on the canals.
11. How about things you recommend to do on a visit?
I say go and do what the locals do if you want a really in-depth feel of the area. In terms of exploring, I love Amsterdam North (Noord). It’s this really up and coming suburb across the river on the other side of town. It’s got really cool street art and up and coming businesses. It’s only 10 minutes away from the city but you feel like you are in a completely new place. Abandoned warehouses and stuff like that.
12. If someone was looking to follow in your footsteps what would your main tip be?
It’s really important to immerse yourself into the culture and country. Amsterdam isn’t that easy because it is so Western and everyone speaks English. My friends say I don’t need to learn Dutch but I don’t think that’s right when you are living in someone else’s country.
It’s about pushing that idea away of hanging out with Aussie friends or English speakers. Not meeting the locals or going to where they go out is a hindrance and is really important.
It is a sign of respect more than anything so if you want to open a business, do it as they do honestly appreciate it. Just because they can speak English does not mean they always want to…
13. How about people just travelling through Amsterdam?
My style of travelling, I tell people to spend money on the things you like and stay for a shorter time than spread out time massively and only be able to eat crackers!