How did Hetty's adventure as an entrepreneur begin? What is her formula for success? And does she have any tips for starting entrepreneurs? We asked her this and more during a visit to Chinny on the Lijnbaan.
Along the Lijnbaan you will find two of Hetty's companies: Chinny and Gilles. At Gilles you can enjoy traditional baguettes, but also unique sandwiches that you will not find anywhere else in Rotterdam, such as the omelette gyros. Of course you come to Chinny for the delicious Surinamese sandwiches.
We arrive at Chinny on the Lijnbaan at 10 am. The business is still closed, but Hetty is already ready for the interview with a friendly smile. At Gilles, the staff is already setting up the shop. We sit down for the interview with a cup of tea.
Can you tell us a little about how it all started?
Hetty: "I always wanted to start my own business and it soon became clear that this would be a Surinamese sandwich shop. I opened the very first Chinny in 1997, across the street in a very small shop. All my savings went into it; it was really all or nothing. Entrepreneurship also means taking risks. Fortunately, the first two years went very well and we quickly gained a lot of brand recognition. In 1999 I received an offer from the municipality to move to this location, because they were going to sell the building to Grolsch. At first I found it a challenge, because it was a completely different rental price and a different type of business. Still, I did it and I have never regretted it."
When did you decide to open another location?
Hetty: "My desire to expand came in 2002 and through the grapevine I heard about a location on the Hoogstraat, so I was lucky. That location is now franchised. Shortly afterwards I had a bar. But it wasn't for me and an employee who really liked it then took over."
"I then opened a location in the Alexandrium and a location in The Hague. Gilles opened in 2014. Our newest location can be found in Rotterdam-West, on the Westzeedijk."
What is Chinny's formula for success?
Hetty: "Right from the start, we built up a lot of brand awareness. Before corona, we were even open 24/7 on weekends, so that customers could get something tasty after going out. It certainly helped that we were one of the first on the street with a Surinamese sandwich shop. But success only really comes through dedication and hard work. It really has to be your passion, because you radiate that to your customers. I have also always had very good staff."
"Although there are more Surinamese businesses in the centre these days, I dare say that we have the tastiest toppings. At least that is the opinion of our customers, some of whom have been visiting us for years. Even people who have moved to another city, return especially for our sandwiches."
How often can you be found on the Lijnbaan?
Hetty: "These days I can mainly be found on the Westzeedijk in Rotterdam-West. That business opened shortly before the corona pandemic, which was of course not the best time to start a restaurant. As a result, we are currently still busy building up. I am often present to support staff, monitor turnover and evaluate what is feasible and what is not."
"On weekends I am usually present at the Lijnbaan, because then we are closed in West. The location on the Lijnbaan of course has a special place in my heart, because it is the very first branch. Moreover, Gilles is right next to it, so then I can I can easily visit there too."
There are several Chinny's, but there is only one Gilles. Why is that?
Hetty: "It actually just happened. The building next door became vacant and the property owner at the time asked if I would like to operate there as well. Why not, I thought. For example, they asked if I wanted to break through the wall to create a bigger business for Chinny, but no: I wanted to be my own competitor.”
What is the difference between the two things? Hetty: “We sell Surinamese sandwiches at Chinny and baguettes at Gilles. Just traditional baguettes, but with delicious toppings.”
What is your favourite dish at Chinny? And at Gilles?
Hetty knows the answer right away: "That is the tja saw sandwich with roasted pork in soy sauce. That is highly recommended, especially if you like spare ribs. At Gilles my favourite omelette sandwich is gyros. That is also the most popular dish among customers."