Working Late With Restaurateur Mr Bob Nagel
The Amsterdam café owner is always on his feet – which makes him the perfect person to try out our new Mr P. shoes.
By the time the doors of Café Binnenvisser have been bolted shut and the last guests have drifted off into the night, the clock will read 3.00am. Mr Bob Nagel, the co-owner of this neighbourhood bistro in the Oud-West district of Amsterdam, will have been on his feet for 12 hours. For now, though, he’s reclining at the bar – a colossal slab of white terrazzo marble that, along with the wine fridge, is just about the most expensive thing in the room – and savouring the calm before the storm.
“In the first six months, every day was a rollercoaster,” says the 28-year-old. “We [Mr Nagel and his business partner, Mr Maarten Bloem] had to do everything ourselves, from cleaning the bathrooms to picking up orders from the wine supplier. It was just work, sleep, then wake up and do the whole thing all over again.”
Just over a year in, things are noticeably less frantic for Mr Nagel, who now manages a staff of 20 during the peak summer season. That doesn’t mean he’s afraid to get his hands dirty, though. “During the day I’m constantly running around visiting suppliers, tasting wines and planning the week’s menu with the chef. Once we open at 5.00pm, I’m busy welcoming guests or working behind the bar making charcuterie and cheese plates.” This is no desk job, in other words. But then, he was never really cut out for one of those, anyway.
“I worked as a marketing manager for a software company,” he recalls. “I think I lasted about a year-and-a-half.” Like so many graduates under pressure to get a job, Mr Nagel did so at the behest of his parents. Ironically, though, it was his parents who also provided him with his way out. His first foray into the hospitality business came with Eten op Rolletjes, a food-truck festival that he set up with his father in the family’s hometown of Ede, in the Eastern Netherlands. (The name translates as “Meals on Wheels”.) A roaring success, the festival now takes place in 10 cities across the country and attracts thousands of guests.
Life on the road can be hard, however, and with the success of a season’s events resting largely on the weather, Mr Nagel soon found himself yearning for something a little steadier. One winter, over a few bottles of natural wine with his friend and future business partner, an idea for something new began to coalesce. “We wanted to do our own version of the traditional brown café,” he says, referring to the “bruine kroegs” that dot the street corners in Amsterdam and are renowned for their cosy atmosphere and dark, smoke-stained wooden walls.
The result was Café Binnenvisser, which opened its doors for the first time last summer and has since earned a reputation not just for its wide selection of natural wines but for its skilfully executed seasonal menu, too. Before the beginning of another busy night, we took a moment to chat with the café’s co-owner about the good things in life: food, wine, vintage cars and clothes.
What kind of vibe were you going for when you first set Café Binnenvisser?
We wanted to attract a younger crowd than the typical brown café. The music’s loud, we play old-school hip-hop, soul and funk… it’s a buzzing place, you know? Originally, we had intended it to be more of a café than a restaurant, but then we met our chef and found he can cook like crazy.
Why natural wines?
They’re a whole new spectrum of wines – energetic, vibrant, full of minerals and acidity. Every time you taste them, they offer something different. My business partner and I had visited a few places in Paris and Berlin serving them in a cool, youthful environment and thought that we could bring that to Amsterdam.
How do you get around the city?
I have a beautiful BMW E30 from my birth year – but it’s not the easiest way to get from A to B. In Amsterdam, everyone gets around either by bike or by foot.
How does this influence your choice of clothing and footwear?
I spend the whole day on my feet, so I need to think carefully about the shoes I’m wearing. They need to be sturdy and it’s important that they fit properly. When I go to work, I’m walking literally more than 12 hours a day. Then there’s the weather to consider. You have to have a wardrobe that you can switch up easily.
Is it hard to balance dressing well with working in a hands-on role?
I like nice clothes and I spend a bit more than average, but also, I’m aware of the fact that I’m working in a restaurant with dirty plates, beer and wine, so I’m trying to buy and wear stuff that’s made of sturdy fabrics that’s not going to fall apart.
Practicality is one thing, but what about presentation? As the boss, do you feel obliged to dress up?
I guess I try to be a bit more dressed up than average. But it’s a casual vibe here, and I try not to dress in a way that might alienate people. I want customers to come here and go away and think, “These are really nice guys working there.”