When Rotterdam-based business partners Rodney van den Engel and Marco den Dunnen had the idea to start a coffee roastery, they stumbled onto an untapped market. Now, several years later, Heilige Boontjes (‘Holy Beans’) is paving the way to give young people at a disadvantage on the job market a second chance.
It was in the course of careers in the police force and reintegration coaching that the pair were struck by how few training opportunities exist to help young people from troubled backgrounds find work.
‘We wanted to make coffee as an artisanal product available to a wider target group’, explains Rodney. ‘We also felt it was important to offer these youngsters a place where they can grow and aren’t disadvantaged by problems from their past. For them, it’s fun to interact with customers, work with quality products and make progress.’
Regardless of background, ethnicity or sex, at Heilige Boontjes everyone gets the same treatment and pay cheque. Young hires arrive via various routes – through the city’s youth desk, employer service point, the police, probation service or by applying on the website.
‘We train around 25 youngsters a year. Our expertise is on the streets and in employment. The first thing we look at is whether we can work with that person and what it will take. Not everyone is a good fit, and we’re honest about that.’ After an initial three-month period, they draw up a diagnosis and action plan for each hire. As well as internal training programmes for young people, the coffee roaster also runs a partnership with Albeda College to offer work placements. ‘We want to be a model for other employers. It takes time, energy and a healthy show of anger from time to time, but you’re making the city a better place.’
Rodney and Marco’s coffee roastery has built a platform for a brighter future. Over the past six years, they’ve grown from one pop-up shop to two locations plus a webshop dedicated to lending a helping hand to more than 120 young people. ‘People have no idea how much impact they’re making by buying our coffee. Our hires re-engage with society as active citizens.’ In the future, the two hope to roll out their concept to more cities in the Netherlands.