The Fenix Food Factory stands in Rotterdam’s Katendrecht district, on the south side of the New Meuse river. Benches are set outside, on the dockside of the Rijnhaven, allowing visitors to sit and look towards the Hotel New York and the skyscrapers on the opposite waterfront while socialising, eating and drinking.
Inside, you’ll find a bakery, a brewery and bar, a cheese maker, a butcher, a cider store plus a café and a grocery shop with a kitchen. The vibe is distinctly laid back and a touch alternative. At the centre of the Fenix Food Factory stands a piano plus tables and chairs. A swing hangs from the ceiling. Visitors are free to make use of them.
The building housing the Fenix Food Factory was previously employed as a warehouse. In its earlier incarnations it stored cotton, tea, coffee and, most recently, was a cold store. Fluorescent lights provide illumination. The building still has a raw look and feel. “Quite a lot of people compare it to Berlin,” says Wouter Bijl, one of the Fenix Food Factory’s founders and the owner of Cider Cider, the first dedicated cider store in the Netherlands.
We stand next to an arched, corrugated iron hut that Wouter jokes is his man cave. “We wanted to make something that was real, where people could enjoy and learn about food. We want to keep prices low and for people to come here, enjoy food, sit and grab a beer, cheese and meat,” he explains.
“People can buy a bottle of cider from me or bring their own wine. I believe that’s the new way of thinking. If you leave people free they’ll come and buy something anyway,” he says with conviction.
The Fenix Food Factory hosts regular live music events to draw visitors from beyond the local catchment area.
The Katendrecht district has undergone a significant clean up in recent years. “It used to be the place that sailors came to have a drink and for a good time. It had everything that God forbade. And after that it became a place you didn’t want to be. Ten years ago they started to rebuild it,” explains Wouter.
“We selected the entrepreneurs based on the quality of their products, how they think and passion for what they do. We want people who understand what they are talking about,” he adds.
“We believe in thinking about food and that the economy can be different. We’re not here to make tonnes of money. We’re here to do what we do and enjoy our lives,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders and a nod.
Rechtstreex, one of the businesses with the former warehouse, is run by Arthur Nijhuis and sells fruit and vegetables sourced from within a 50km radius of Rotterdam.
“Some are organic but all of them are local products. We’re looking for the best quality. We’re always preparing things for people to taste,” says Arthur and points towards Baz, his chef, who flashes a smile and places a cup of warm mushroom soup on the counter.
“From the bottom up I’m trying to make a difference, to show we can do things in a different way,” says Arthur. “We’re trying to shorten the food chain and go to the consumer directly. You have better products, the farmer has a better price and the products are actually cheaper because you have less links in the chain taking a margin.”
Farmers deliver food boxes on a weekly basis and people have the opportunity to taste before buying. Additionally, Baz gives cooking demonstrations and provides recipes. This is proving helpful for generating interest in unfamiliar ingredients, such as New Zealand spinach.
“Try coming back here on a Sunday for brunch and to enjoy the music,” suggests Wouter as I photograph him by the door and say goodbye.
The Fenix Food Factory stands at Veerlaan 19D, 3072 Rotterdam. See the website for opening times and information about events including food and drink related workshops and tastings.