Interview with Hetty Chin

Chinny has been a household name in Rotterdam since 1997!

In 1997, Hetty Chin opened her first Surinamese sandwich shop on the Lijnbaan in Rotterdam. Now, more than 26 years later, she owns a total of five businesses and everyone in Rotterdam knows her sandwiches.

25 January 2024
By Lisanne Van Beurden

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."

"But success only really comes through dedication and hard work. It really has to be your passion, because you radiate that to your customers."

Hetty Chin
A newspaper article about Chinny in 2000.

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."

The baguette omelette gyros chicken.
Hetty (in the middle) with the staff in her restaurant Gilles.

What role do you have in the business now?

Hetty: "Ik ben eigenlijk van van alle markten thuis. Ik sta zelf regelmatig in de zaak en vind het leuk om allerlei taken op me te nemen. Ik ben het liefst op de werkvloer en doe precies wat mijn medewerkers doen. Ook schoonmaken. Niks is te min voor me, hoor."

Does your family also help in the business?

Hetty: "My husband takes care of the administration and coordinates purchasing for the kitchen. My son recently started working at the Alexandrium on Saturdays. I think it is important that he understands what hard work means. I hope he takes that experience with him."

Hetty with the staff in Chinny.

Do you have any plans for the future?

Hetty: "It is actually quite an exciting time, because we will remain on the Lijnbaan until 2025, after which the development of the Lumière Tower will start. As a creature of habit, on the one side I think that's a shame, but I also understand that this area is in need of an upgrade. I think something very nice will take its place. Now I have some time to get used to that change. Around the time we have to leave, we are considering moving, and if we do, we will probably move more towards the middle of the centre."

"Other than that, I'm just very content now and I don't have any big plans for the future. What I've learned over the years is that satisfaction in life is essential. When I look around me, I see people who are sick, and then I realize how lucky I am. When you are younger, you are so busy with big plans. We also have to learn to be satisfied with what life offers us."

"I will continue to run mt business, but my motivation for this lies mainly with the people who work for me. For example, that young lady you saw at Gilles has been working for us for 20 years."

Do you have any advice for people who are just starting a restaurant?

"Yes, you have to be really passionate; it is hard work and you have to sacrifice a lot, something people don't always realize. For example, I hardly ever go on holiday and work almost every day. But it is absolutely the most fun thing there is, and I would do it all again."

Thanks for your time, Hetty!

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