Hajé Shops, Hotels & Restaurants is a Dutch catering chain with nine branches throughout the Netherlands. In the various restaurants, hotels, Take Away’s and shops, Hajé offers a place to rest, honest products and healthy meals. In the interview on this page, Thierry, Etienne and Pointer de Jager talk about the vision, mission and entrepreneurship.
Three young entrepreneurs with one mission
LELYSTAD – In 2015, Thierry, Etienne and Pointer de Jager officially took over the day-to-day management of Hajé Shops, Hotels & Restaurants. Parents Hajé and Feikje de Jager decided, after 29 years of hard work and setting up seven branches, to take a step back and put their family business in the hands of their sons. Each responsible for its own department, Thierry is head of the operation, Etienne is responsible for the facility departments and the guest experience in the broad sense. Pointer takes care of the financial department. Although their story started much earlier. Without noticing, the three men already started their training when they were young.
At the age of seven they were already preparing schnitzels, sorting bottles and looking for strawberries at Hajé de Lepelaar, where Thierry, Etienne and Pointer grew up. “Never a dull moment”, says Pointer with a smile. The family lived above the restaurant. The business and family life merged seamlessly. “The employees not only worked in the restaurant, but also regularly baby-sit us. Sometimes they would walk with us through the woods in a spare hour’’, Pointer says, the youngest of the three. The catering business was taught at young age. “There was always someone who wanted to teach us something. Someone from the ministry taught us how to polish, a cook who would cut lemon slices with us”, Etienne says. “With Angelo we have made pizza bottoms, and we made sate with Jozi. Back then everything was still being made at the restaurant itself, instead of in the Culinary Heart of Hajé.” Their childhood between the then nameless but wonderful Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve and the A6 highway created a deep and strong bond between the three brothers. They lived further away from the city than their friends at school and they were mainly dependent of each other. ‘’Driving to school was always tough, a bicycle path wasn’t there yet. Our parents provided an awesome playground with trampolines, karts and bikes. Friends always wanted to come and play’’, Thierry says. ‘’But getting our driving license was a real liberation’’ Pointer says. Ethienne and Thierry fully agree.
All three brothers went to the Free School in Almere. A cookery course, a study in catering entrepreneurship, bachelor of Commercial Economics and various courses, internships and practical experience can be divided between Thierry, Etienne and Pointer. Although there was always the possibility to take over the business from their parents, involvement in the organization has never been self-evident. “Our parents took us to other restaurants when we were young and were genuinely interested in our opinions”, Pointer recalls. Perhaps already with an eye on the qualities of their offspring, Hajé and Feikje de Jager stimulated thinking about the company and the involvement. “Even though our father advised us to do anything, except for something related to the catering industry”, Thierry laughs.
“It has to feel right”
When asked what the three husbands have learned from their parents, Pointer answered: “everything that comes with doing business. Constantly evaluating, they really taught us that. Always keep moving. An entrepreneur who is not moving forward stands still. Do not think you know everything, but keep reading and keep learning. And of course act from the heart, you see that thought everywhere in the organization.” Etienne adds: ‘’It’s not about the numbers or results, it’s about your inner feeling. The organization, it has to feel right.’’ At family dinners the main subject has always been the company. “It’s just always on your mind”, Pointer confesses. “This wasn’t always fun for the girls we took home for dinner.” A nice anecdote is my mother’s attempt to introduce the codeword ‘code steak’,” Etienne laughs. “If the conversation was dragging on about the company for too long, my mother would yell ‘code steak!’. That was the signal that we had to talk about something else. Often after fifteen minutes we broke this promise.”
The three brother form a strong team. Each of them leads a specific part of the organization. Together with their uncle Kaeso de Jager, they looked into which course to set with Hajé during the period of the brothers taking over the company. “Of course we tried to find tasks for ourselves that made us happy, but we have mainly tried to figure out what our best qualities where and how to make the most use out of them,” Pointer says, responsible for the financial department. “We have looked at where our qualities lie.” It is clear that the organization’s needs are paramount. “We have a very good relationship as brothers and we are always very respectful to each other. The fact that we are brothers makes that we can say everything to each other. This way we keep each other very sharp,” Etienne says. “We think transparency is very important. I have done internships in other companies who seemed to be based on fear; We absolutely do not want that.”
With the takeover by the three brothers, the structure of the company changed inevitably and new people were recruited. “With three people in charge, responsibilities are also divided by three”, Thierry adds. “There is no problem with that and for now it works perfectly. We also try to give our employees more responsibility, this way we really run the company as a team. We find this very important.”
When we asked what the employees mean to them, Thierry and Pointer simultaneously yelled “Everything!”. “We are nowhere without our employees and we are grateful they want to work for us,” Etienne says. “It is our job to offer our employees a nice working environment and help them if they need anything.” Thierry then tells us they give special opportunities to young people, just like Hajé and Feikje always did. Things you wouldn’t quickly find elsewhere. In addition, the Hajé Academy was established this year, with which the brothers will try to enrich the education of the employees. The Academy is also intended to provide their own employees with development and progress.
In addition to natural nutrition, nature itself plays a major role. Most Hajé restaurants can be found at special locations. Passing the night in the Oostvaardersplassen near Lelystad, having a meeting with a view of the meadows of Tull & ‘t Waal in Nieuwegein, or our most recent establishment: Hajé Natuur Park, which is completely surrounded by nature. “Our restaurants on the A6 serve as the gateways to the Oostvaardersplassen”, Thierry says. Everything surrounding restaurant De Lepelaar was created by the De Jager family, from the beach to bicycle paths. Always with respect for nature. Pointer points out that spending the night in a nature reserve is a unique experience. “You just sleep in the New Wilderness,” he says, referring to the popular Dutch cinema film from 2013, that was recorded at the Oostvaardersplassen. “We are always looking for gems at the side of the road. Because that’s where our hotels and restaurants can be found”, Thierry says. At Hajé Nieuwegein, along the A27, the connection with the hinterland is again clearly visible. “You have a completely different experience at the front of the store than at the back where you look out over the beautiful meadows of Tull & ‘t Waal,” Thierry says. “It has also become a bit of our role to show travelers the beautiful places of the Netherlands at places where they might not expect it at all”, Pointer adds.
When asked if their parents are proud of the brothers, they respond a bit shyly. “I sometimes notice it here and there”, Etienne laughs. “I think I speak on behalf of all three of us when I say that we are especially grateful to our parents for the opportunity they gave us”, Thierry says. “I am looking forward to the future”, he concludes. “I think we, as an organization, still have a lot to add to the Dutch catering market. I think that being a unique addition is our most important mission.”