Helinja Ruiter started Lui Cafe in the beginning of November 2018. This place is all about ‘unwinding offline’, that’s what explains the second part of the name in Dutch: offline opladen. It’s located in the Oude Ebbingestraat in Groningen. Helinja is a familiar face in the vegan food scene in our city. You might already know her from the Youth Food Movement, as a chef of the former lunch café in Opgeweckt Noord or from the Bionoot market stall on the Vismarkt. This young women just loves starting up new projects and that’s exactly what Lui Café is, a new kind of coffee place in Groningen.
A few years ago Helinja (28) graduated from Environmental Sciences. During her college time she joined the Youth Food Movement (YFM) department in Groningen, an organisation that connects young people, sustainability and food by thinking globally and acting locally. After her study she felt the need to discover new things.
“In my study I missed creativity. I also wanted to know more about what the world has to offer. In that time Bionoot (the market stall) had just started and they were looking for someone to expand that business concerning sales. Since pioneering is in my blood I took that opportunity with both hands. Later on Opgeweckt Noord offered me the position of chef in their lunch kitchen. Eventhough I just put some ingredients, flavours and textures together, people seem to like my food.
“Once I know how a new thing works, I’m quickly done with it and want to create something new”
After working a few years in the restaurant and food business Helinja decided it was enough. She wanted to do something new. She found a job coach and together they researched what her next step could be. Important aspects in work for Helinja are: health care, helping people and (personal) growth. And then she received an invitation of the owners of Wij zijn Dunk, the people who own the building where Lui Café is located downstairs. They talked to Helinja about starting up something new, but they had no ideas as to what this should be. So Helinja was given the opportunity to be creative again and write her own business plan. It didn’t have to be in the restaurant business.
Wij zijn Dunk is in mental healthcare; it’s a business where people with a psychiatric background (or psychiatric disorder) can get back on their feet in a learning environment.
That’s how everything came together for Helinja: healthcare, Helinja’s restaurant and food experience and the chance to pioneer again. Within this framework she created the idea of Lui Café, a place to relax, recharge and enjoy tasty food. Seems like the ideal combination, right?! Helinja works for Wij zijn Dunk. This way she gets to experience the benefits of entrepreneurship and a steady income as an employee.
Offline and recharging
“Lui Café feels a bit like it’s my baby. But, if I had to do it all on my own, I would never have come this far. I’m too critical and my sense of responsibility is just too big. Colleagues are worth so so much and having a team of people around you is very important.”
Helinja advices other starting entrepreneurs to connect with people who can help and support you. People who you can talk to and discuss things that cross your path.
“If I had to do it all by myself I would never have managed to come this far.”
Helinja joined a mastermind group with 2 other female entrepreneurs: sharing, connecting, inspiring and asking eachother for help is what they do. “In every person there’s the need to help other people,” she says.
“We are just in our heads so much, we lose the connection with our body and heart sometimes. “What really makes me happy?”, is what she frequently asks herself. “How will you manage to find happiness and share it with the people around you?” At Lui Café first steps are made to reach this goal. We would like our customers to be happy and healthy coworkers. Come visit Lui Café and start knitting, or drawing, of just chat with a friend or other customer or play a game. At Lui Café there is enough to see, do and experience. One of the highlighths of Lui Café is the green moss wall you can just look at and relax.
Idling and work – life balance
“Idling is also an invitation to myself. And a challenge to others. It can bring you so much: inspiration, new mindsets, balance and more… We are so good at doing, that’s what we learn when growing up I guess. But, only if you are really well rested you are able to work hard and think clearly at the same time. Starting up Lui Café is great fun and also a very busy time. And if there’s a person not good at idling, it’s me. My coworkers keep asking me if I don’t work too much. And I know I have to organize things differently. My plan is to work 4 days instead of 5 days a week, for example. Eventhough now it seems like a weird idea to not be here all 5 opening days. I will start clearing my evening and night schedule a bit more. And more time to spend with my loved ones and friends just sounds heavenly. Just like spending more time outdoors to walk and cycle. Or pick up my hobbies again, like making costumes.
“The only thing I can think about is healthy food.”
At Lui Café Helinja mainly serves vegetarian food. Not only vegan as many people would expect of Helinja. Helinja has been a vegetarian for over 20 years now and the last 9 years she eats almost a 100% vegan. But because Lui Café already is quite unique, Helinja thought serving only vegan food would maybe be too big of a barrier for meateaters to visit Lui Café also. She wants to include as many people as possible. At Lui Café you can order healthy and delicious comfort food, with a lot of veggies and mostly locally available products. And yes, there are even a few optional meat options available. Helinja tells us: “Yes, I know some people might have doubts about this, but I’m very clear about what I want: a place for everybody. The more extreme Lui Café (or I) will be, the faster people will run away. Sometimes the key is to convince people is with everything but words. That’s what 9 years of eating vegan has thought me.”
When we asked Helinja about her favourite restaurant in Groningen, she said: “Wadapartja”. “It’s great for lunch and dinner. They have an interesting menu and it’s a cozy restaurant to enjoy some tasty food”. Oh, and she also loves Achterwerk. She was very impressed with the food there, when she finally got a change to visit in Autumn.
And what about her favourite dish or recipe? She already told us she hardly ever uses recipes. One of her favourite dishes is grilled vegetables from the oven. It’s just so easy to change the flavour and add or omit ingredients. You can vary with different kinds of vegetables and add a nice dip like hummus or mayonaise. “My favourite vegetable is aubergine”, she tells us. “It just has great flavour, if prepared in the right way.”
Are you curious about our talk with Helinja? Then you can listen to the Wander Women podcast episode 1, Helinja and Lui Café, which will be online soon.