“I like to create awareness, I wanted my business to answer questions like: What is healthy food? Where does it come from? What is a healthy lifestyle?”
“We’re made to believe certain things about diets and food, so I started reading up on that. I got very passionate about championing a healthy lifestyle and doing things differently. For example, an item on my menu is a carrot cake that is sweetened with honey rather than sugar.”
It was this desire that led the teenager to open healthy food and lifestyle store By Zoë in January 2018. It was the realisation of Zoë’s entrepreneurial dream, and it became a reality much faster than she could have ever expected. In fact she got her first experience of the catering industry just two months before her store opened, working at her local market.
The speed was largely down to a unique programme running in her hometown called “Start a Shop in Almelo.” The rise of e-commerce has put many brick-and-mortar stores out of business, significantly increasing the number of empty storefronts in her area. In order to combat this trend, the programme promotes the new independent stores by giving entrepreneurs easy access to a well located storefront, supporting their business plan, offering mediation with loan providers and providing coaching. “Start a shop in Almelo” aims to renew the city and create a unique shopping experience.
Qredits, Youth Business International member in the Netherlands, in partnership with the Citi Foundation, assists entrepreneurs with loans and mentoring, and is part of the “Start a shop in Almelo” programme. After coming across the programme, Zoë got in touch with a Qredits loan officer and secured a student loan offered at a low interest rate. In addition to the financial aid, Zoë received a mentor who she meets with monthly.
“I get a lot of good energy from my mentoring meetings. He has taught me to look at my business differently, to look at it from a different angle.”
When Zoë wrote her business plan, she did so with the goal of showing that eating healthy isn’t difficult, but she also wanted it to have a social impact. She explains: “My ingredients are locally sourced; and I grow some at a special education school for children with learning difficulties or a disability. I have also employed two interns from that school to help me in my store and spread awareness at the school about healthy living.”
Zoë is the youngest entrepreneur in her hometown of Almelo and her age, just 18 when the shop opened, has caused issues. In the she Netherlands you have to be 21 to open a restaurant, so she had to register her business as a store. While By Zoë operates as a lunchroom and catering service, she sells products in her store from other vendors, such as accessories, furniture, and clothing. The special products for sale fit Zoë’s passion for all things natural and wholesome; she sells 100% cotton clothes made in the Netherlands and organic wine.
Zoë’s life is much busier than the average teenager; she works at the store three days a week, trains to become a chef two days a week, and works at a hotel. She has made a lot of sacrifices as a young entrepreneur. “There are a lot of things I can’t do, things I have to pass on, like going out, partying, whatever. On Friday night, my friends come to my store to catch me up on things.”
Despite her busy schedule Zoë finds her work incredibly fulfilling. The grand opening of her shop was a very special day for her. “It felt insane and overwhelming.” She was all over the newspaper as the youngest entrepreneur in town, and the first day of business was booming.
“The most satisfying thing is when people come and have something to eat or drink at my place. To see them, to see the happiness and enjoyment is what keeps me going and gives me a lot of energy.”
In the next few years, Zoë hopes to open up shop in another city, but for now, she is focused on completing her chef training course with a final exam approaching in May. Her final examination involves preparing a full menu and, by the looks of it, she will be incredibly well prepared.
Qredits is part of the Youth Business Europe programme, a regional initiative supported by the Citi Foundation to help young entrepreneurs to start or grow a business.