Last week, Lente opened its doors just a few steps away from the landmark Aa-kerk, in the very heart of the city center. Named after the Dutch term for springtime, the one-stop shop sells a variety of different products, but the common thread is that everything on display is locally sourced and fairly priced.
“As the spring returns, everything in the garden starts to grow again and vegetables, they…,” says Thomas Bijl, 28, “they sprout,” eagerly chimes in Geeshe Smit, 47, the co-owner of Lente.
“Goedemiddag,” utters Geeshe with a wide smile, as she greats random passersby strolling in, intrigued by the shades and hues of the luscious array of fennel, celeriac, pumpkins, and radishes.
In the airy and bright environment, sunlight filters through the south-east facing white-framed windows. “In the summer, we’re going to put pillows on the windowsill, so that people can have something to drink or an apple in the open air,” says Geeshe, her voice brimming with anticipation.
She studied Business and Economics before working as a butcher for about twenty years, following in her father’s footsteps. Then she decided to start afresh with her business partner Thomas by combining her expertise in butchery with Thomas’s background as a spice connoisseur.
In the past, he worked at De Kruidenspecialist, the spices and herbs stall in Vismarkt.
They have known each other for quite some time and the idea had been simmering for a while.
White tiling juxtaposed with red brick arches.
The concept is to recreate the market experience but with a different setting.
“We’re like an extension of the market,” says Thomas. “But we have everything under one roof.”
Sourcing supply is key in a business like this. “We have our cows, 300 around the area,” says Geeshe. The in-house meat processing, such as smoking and boning, allows them to keep the mark- up lower and offer meat at an affordable price. Here is where their unique selling point lies. “The lines are very short,” reiterates Geeshe.
Thomas has been growing a vegetable garden himself in Stadspark for seven years, and at Lente he nurtures his love for greens. Although it’s still too cold in Holland for his patch to yield a large harvest, they still try to look for local farmers and select seasonable products.
“We don’t sell mangoes at the moment,” he says.
The rustic environment recalls a bygone era brushed with a hint of modernity and is tinted with shallow wicker baskets, packed with fruits and vegetables. Loaves of bread are neatly lined on wooden shelves and come from a nearby bakery. Counters are dotted with cheese wheels and mustard-colored jute bags overflowing with pulses, to suit everyone’s taste.
Food sold in bulk is making a comeback, with more people going back to basics and getting rid of packaging. “It’s nice to see that people are really appreciating that,” says Geeshe.
At a time when so many businesses have faced hardships with Covid, rising bills and inflation, the owners are hoping this place will become a spot for Groningers to come together through their shopping.
The new opening has already been met with a wave of enthusiasm by the community.
“We bring a bit of happiness,” says Thomas. “In a world where everything goes faster and faster, and we have the self-checkout at the Albert Heijn, this is the opposite: you take your time, you’re helped at the counter, so it’s a place to feel at home and feel joy for everyone who lives here.”
But if you do are in a hurry, Lente’s owners have got you covered. “Tasjes” are the most sold item so far. Ready-made paper bags where Geeshe slips a recipe card in to encourage people to approach a heathier way of cooking by using fresh ingredients.
“They just grab a bag; they pay and go home.”
Lente embraces its own model of circular economy. The upstream prevention of food waste achieved by setting up an onsite kitchen is their strongest asset.
“Today we made a soup with pastinaca and carrots,” says Geeshe.
Takeaway meals are vacuum sealed to preserve freshness for longer. “This way we can guarantee the taste and quality of the things we cook,” says Thomas.
It is already late afternoon at Akerkhof 32. The sun is setting and it’s time to think about tomorrow’s menu. Geeshe bends over and hoists the plastic fruit box containing a bunch of red beets. She is thinking about making a salad. “Lekker,” says Thomas with a delighted face. “I’ll ask my mom, she has a very good recipe for it,” says Geeshe.
Lente is open Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 20:00, and on Saturdays from 8:00 to 17:00.