Founded in 2016 by entrepreneur Cathalijne Huijben and nutritionalist Cil Vermolen, Meatless District opened their first location on bustling Bilderdijkstraat in the heart of the Oud West of Amsterdam. Their mission: To provide a vibrant, but cozy eating experience with great service and prepare beautifully prepared, plant-based dishes that hero the greatness of plants. With the first location off to a great success, the team wanted to follow up with a second eatery and just two years later, set their mark in the vibrant and hip neighborhood of De Pijp, too.
“Two beautiful vegan eateries, making a change in their community.”
Claire Ashmore, a chef originally from England, joined the team at Meatless District in 2018, as Head Chef in the Bilderdijkstraat location, quickly rose the ranks. After the opening of the second location, Claire became Executive Chef for both restaurants. Since early 2020, she became the third partner in the business. Cathalijne, Cil and Claire had become good friends and their relationship had evolved. All three share the same love and energy for the vegan scene and good food.
Two, beautifully furnished, welcoming and stylish eateries in Amsterdam offering 100% vegan delights for brunch and dinner to vegans, vegetarians and the plant-curious under the banner of Meatless District, making a change in their city and community. And then the pandemic hit.
Early Days of the Pandemic
Claire remembers early 2020 as a time of turmoil. “As the news of the pandemic unfolded, we tried to remain calm. News of the lockdown in March came as a shock, everything was so unclear and we went into full crisis mode.”
To Claire and her partners, “it became slowly apparent that the world was coming to a halt, and like most people, we were puzzled as to what that meant for our team, and for our business.
Cooking for Care Workers
“Our first priority,” Claire tells us, “was to make sure our employees were safe, and advise them as good as we could.” It was not an easy time, not for Claire, not for her business partners and not for their team. “We had this super heavy feeling, not knowing how to secure the future.”
“We cooked 200 plant-based meals a week for doctors and nurses.”
What they did have, however, was a strong sense of community. The unity and togetherness of the team lead to doing what felt natural. “So… we cooked”, Claire laughs.
“We set up an initiative called ‘Cook for Care Workers’, and began cooking 200 plant-based meals per week for the two major Amsterdam hospitals, for the doctors and nurses,” Claire remembers. “We received overwhelming support for this project, and it gave us a focus and a feeling of being able to help.”
Still got a Business to Run
But the team still had a business to run and a future to secure. It had been frustrating to not being able to run their restaurants at the normal level for almost a year, but looking back, Claire can definitely say : “We made the best of it.”
To keep the business afloat, the team has been testing “various takeaway menu concepts, pick-up special menu boxes and a pop-up,” Claire tells us. “One or our restaurants was working quite well for takeaway and pick-up, the other not so much, so we channeled our energy in the Bilderdijkstaat restaurant.” The closed location, meanwhile, became Claire’s playground. “Van Wou has become a creative hub for new ideas, pastry production and testing new dishes. This way, we stayed in our flow.”
How to Support Meatless District
For everyone wanting to do their part in making sure this landmark of the vegan culinary scene in Amsterdam makes it through these tough times, it’s actually pretty easy to help. If you’re local, just order takeaway and help the business by bringing your business.
“Share some love with us on social, it’s great for morale.”
For everyone abroad, if you have Meatless District on your travel bucket list, get a gift voucher for yourself or your future travel partner to help make sure they’re still there when travel restrictions are lifted.
If, however, the pandemic has been making spending money on food or vouchers impossible for you, there’s a free way to help: Good reviews and some interaction on Meatless District’s social channels goes a long way in creating traction on their outside communication, and is “also great for our morale,” Claire explains. “Share some love with us!”
One thing is for certain, the Meatless District team tries their best to come out of this stress test swinging. “We turned our fear into something positive,” Claire sums up the experience, sounding both relieved and proud (and, if we might add, rightfully so). “There has been so much time to think about where we want to go in the future, what we want to show the world, and actually this past year we made some pretty cool plans.”
“We turned our fear into something positive.”
“We’re dreaming big. We want to open more locations in the Netherlands and perhaps elsewhere in the world over the next few years. We want to reach more people, introduce them to the possibilities within the vegan kitchen. We want to show that plant-based food is the future and educate them as to why.”
We, that much is for sure, can’t wait to be back in Amsterdam to try Claire’s Spring Menu and, by that, invest in a business doing some of the most important work in turning our food system around: Offering mouthwatering dishes that cut out animal-derived ingredients, delivering proof they have been made redundant.