You come across them everywhere: Dutch entrepreneurs abroad. Why did they ever leave with the northern sun, and is the grass really that much greener across the street? This week: Robert Vogel, who bakes syrup waffles, cakes and poffertjes in Cambodia and teaches vulnerable Cambodians the hospitality industry.
Vegan breakfast waffles, black sesame syrup waffles, arret cake, home-made jam of pineapple and basil, a children's corner with responsible toys made from recycled plastic - we are not talking here about an overpriced hipster tent in the Randstad, but about the waffle bar Robert Vogel and his partner recently runs in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
"We want to show that you can help your family if you are financially independent first" Robert Vogel
Half of his partner is from Singapore and half of him. Foreigners are not allowed to have a majority interest in a case, says Vogel. He does, however, spend most of the time in the bar himself.
"Expats are wildly enthusiastic"
"Making a stroopwafel is difficult. The waffle must be exactly hot enough to be able to cut it in half and only then can you put the filling in. It took me two months to get the hang of it, and then you have to have a really good recipe. "
The waffle bar in Siem Reap
J&R Waffle Bar has been open since August, and the high season is coming, says Vogel. The case is going well so far, but the investments must be earned back. "Expats in particular are wildly enthusiastic. I also sell Belgian waffles, which they can decorate with caramel and M & Ms, we have cheesecake, poffertjes and of course syrup waffles." Hey, wait a minute, "expats say when they see that word:" Amsterdam?'"
"Hey, expats say when they see the word stroopwafel: isn't that from Amsterdam?" Robert Vogel
The city of Siem Reap is close to the Angkor Wat temple complex, one of the seven wonders of the world and therefore an important attraction in Cambodia. Vogel: "The vibe of Siem Reap is completely different than in the rest of South-East Asia, where many places are reminiscent of an ant's nest. It is quiet, relaxed, clean here."
"The ingredients for stroopwafels are here too"
Vogel was traveling around the world two years ago and visited the town. "I fell in love with the region and kept coming back. I thought for a long time about what I could set up here. More than a year ago I met my current partner here, and that made the choice to stay easy. He comes from Singapore, but already lived here. They also have the ingredients for stroopwafels here, I thought, so why not a waffle bar? "
Robert with his friend and colleague in Cambodia. (Photo: private collection)
Vogel was a restaurant manager in Arnhem, worked for a bank for many years and was able to set up a hospitality business thanks to this combination. "My work at the bank earned me a good salary, but it didn't make me very happy. I wanted to go back to the hotel and catering industry and I mainly wanted to start a social enterprise."
Because baking stroopwafels is fun, the aim of the company is more than just turning sales, says Vogel. Cambodians who have a different sexual orientation or are excluded for other reasons in Cambodia can go to J&R Waffle Bar.
Bank account and passport for vulnerable Cambodians
"We train them in the hospitality industry, we teach them English and set employment requirements. For example, they must apply for a passport, open a bank account and we agree that at least 20 percent of the wages go to that bank account and stay there In this culture, the money that people earn in the cities is immediately sent to the family in their village, who then surprise it. We want to show that you can help your family if you are financially independent first. "
Someone works that would like to become a hairdresser, and so Vogel pays for his hairdressing training. Because the waffle bar also delivers to hotels, staff can gain experience in the administration and the hotel world in addition to hospitality experience.
The social waffle company is not a foundation, says Vogel. "I don't want that either. In February I have an appointment with a Dutch foundation that, according to the plan, is looking together with a Cambodian foundation for people who want to apply here."
Before the time has come, Vogel arranges the staff and always updates the menu: Rendang waffles, waffles with chicken, maple syrup and cheese. Stroopwafel cheesecake, breakfast waffles with egg and tomato. The reactions remain positive and Vogel is hopeful about the future of his waffle bar. Whether the worldwide love for the stroopwafel fuels its national pride? "No. I love the Netherlands, but I will never raise a flag with orange penny here, just to show that I am Dutch."
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