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A small Dutch retailer adds tables and wins.

A small Dutch retailer adds tables and wins

The De Pelikaan coffee/tea room is not completely full, a relatively rare event given the genuine success of the venture since it opened 12 months ago. A few of the 16 places remain empty, due perhaps to the rainy and blustery nature of the morning here in Zutphen, the old Hanseatic town in the west of the Netherlands. Everyone in the small tea room is having morning coffee, some of which is the house espresso, served up from the Brasilia espresso machine discretely lurking in the background. Others have chosen from the menu of the house coffees brewed via classic glass tabletop makers, by Melior - the shop also sells these princely little coffee makers off the shelves.

In the afternoon, this scene will change, as tea time - from 3 to 5 - sees a good crowd six days a week, and when about 75% of the clientele are sipping what is truly the house specialty, teas - teas that some regard as the finest to be had in the kingdom of the Netherlands. Not that the house coffee can be far behind in just admiration. Saturday is the busiest day for the De Pelikaan tea room, and then the staff swells to three. In the first year of operations, the flow of customers has come to more than 5,000. In the summer, tourist traffic has caused the business to spill outside, filling an extra 20 sidewalk places. The extent of success here means that De Pelikaan must sadly expand, immediately - taking out its back courtyard to give a further 18 indoor places. The sadness is because the people of De Pelikaan, mainly of the owning Wassink family, cherish smallness as much as they cherish their tea and coffee treasures.

Hennea Wassink and his son, Johan, are De Pelikaan, body and soul. Clearly, they like the new tea room too, as it pleases them to see people enjoying the craftsmanship of fine tea buying and blending and coffee roasting, and too it allows them to have a longer contact with customers they've known all their lives. Nevertheless, one does feel that the Wassinks are more at ease once back on the other side of the wall that divides the new tea room from their very old retail shop, work rooms and warehouse. While the tea room is unassuming, contemporary elegance in warm colors, and as easily a scene in California as provincial Gelderland, the shop area is undiluted 19th century - ancient wood, brass, the unforgettable scents from rooms where tea and coffee have been sold over the counter for 175 years.

But whatever the Wassinks may feel about the split personality of their business, they are surely pleased with its success, the very necessary success of the tea room where typical customers are likely to be so taken with the cup of tea or coffee that they step next door to buy a package to take home, or an ornamental tin - there are about 200 types to choose from - or a teapot, or a hand espresso machine or coffee grinder (some house rules: nothing electric for sale, and no tea bags to be found anywhere). The tea room has added a good share of business to the company, which is actually known as Wed. A. Garsen - De Pelikaan being the old and renowned brandname. Actually the tea room now represents some 20% of turnover; the share is increasing and will do so sharply when the new seating area is opened. The success of the tea room can be termed "necessary" because Wed. A. Garsen was previously a small company getting even smaller. In the past 20 years, the company had lost almost all its large horeca (foodservice) coffee accounts, on which it had once thrived, to the stronger much larger and cheaper competition. The company is the smallest member of the Dutch roasters' association and hasn't the means to compete for retail or horeca markets.

To survive, the company has drawn its defenses as a specialty tea and coffee retail shop, tea room and direct mail service. With this strategy it is apparently doing somewhat better than well, selling 20 tons of coffee and 13 tons of tea each year. The direct mail service accounts for about 50% of the tea/coffee sales and there are some 6000 De Pelikaan customers scattered about the Netherlands, Belgium and in Paris. The company mails to about 100 addresses in the U.S. as well. The mail service is based on a quite simple newsletter that goes out from Zutphen twice yearly.

The most popular house coffee is a blend of carefully selected Arabicas with a touch of Santos. The Maragogype and Kenya roasts are also quite popular. In the past two years, the Wassinks report increasing sales of their espresso blend and of decaffeinated coffee. The roasting is done on the premises with an old 20 kilo-batch Probat unit. The green coffees are exclusively from Installe in Antwerp.

With the success of the tea room, the De Pelikaan coffee sales have at last stabilized. Meanwhile, and for many years now, the tea sales are constantly increasing. Including flavored styles, the house offers 150 teas. The tea heritage is particularly strong, and the company has filing cabinets filled with private tea-blend cards - these are almost all individualized family tea blends of which some have been in use by the same family for over 100 years. When a customer orders "his" tea, the card is drawn and the blend prepared from start. There can be up to 10 qualities in these personal mixtures. The ten sector is also strong in luxury qualities, and De Pelikaan has sold 300 kilos of first flush Darjeeling this year. The Wassinks do their own tasting on purchase but also work closely with NTM Cyfer and the Rotterdam Tea Trade Agency.

For the future, father and son are vocally enthusiastic about tea, which they see as a gaining trend. They find that "teaching" tea has become a major factor in their business and, in fact, will be offering an official tea course in the coming year, through the local adult education program, as a series of eight in-house evening classes on tea tasting. As for coffee, they are not quite so sure of the future, specifically because they fear that the coffee world could become too large, too standardized, to offer them the kind of service they must have to give customers a cup of special coffee. Let us hope not.

PHOTO : The De Pelikaan tea and coffee room, in Zutphen, is a haven where one can degust to one's fill and then amble out with a giftwrapped package for one's love, or merely for the love of fine tea and coffee.
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Title Annotation:Wed. A. Garsen coffee/tea retailer opens De Pelikaan tea room
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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