introducing stach schaberg from stach.
STACH is a brand synonymous with Amsterdam. It’s hard to cycle for too long without seeing one of their distinctive stores where they sell some of the tastiest food around. Whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner, an impromptu snack or simply a coffee to go, they have something for everything and everyone. STACH is also the first name of its founder, Stach Schaberg.
At the core of STACH is a mission to provide people with increasingly busy lives a moment to relax, eat well and enjoy the small things, all within a place that feels like home. They’re also devoted to innovation, working closely with the seasons, trends and other passionate creators to find the next most delicious product. And as new partners of B. Amsterdam, we’re excited to have STACH just downstairs.
We talked to Stach about the local mentality, why corner stores are so important, how seasons support innovation and the value of collaboration.
How did STACH start?
Like always, a few things came together, but I’ve always wanted to do something for myself. When I was nine years old, I worked in a little shop at a swimming pool and sold candy to all the kids. I loved it. And as a kid who loved candy, it was selling a product I was really passionate about. But later I ended up studying law, because I didn’t know what to do with my life and I thought a law degree would be a good base for everything. I hated it. But I said to myself when it’s finished you can do something you really love.
When I finished, I wanted to start something for myself straight away, but I didn’t have the money and experience so decided to work at a few companies to learn as much as I could. I was looking for companies that would give me a lot of responsibility at a young age – Lidl and Aldi for instance. Within six months you could have a lot of responsibility. I knew I could learn retail the hard way there, so I worked for two and a half years at Aldi.
And then after that, I moved back to Amsterdam and worked for Marqt. That was a big leap – from the lower end of hard retail to the high-end organic supermarket. After that, I decided I had to do it myself. I visited London and I saw a lot of ideas; personal, thoughtful, deli-style brands and I realized that was what I wanted.
What’s STACH’s mission?
We want to make it easy for you to eat well and get a good cup of coffee. We want to be there for you throughout the day so even when you have the busiest of days, you can still take a moment for yourself, whether that’s through a tasty sandwich, coffee, an evening meal or a healthy snack. And we want you to take that moment for yourself in a place that feels comfortable, personal, relatable and where you can be yourself – coincidentally in a place much like B. Amsterdam.
And why do you feel that mission is important today and will be in the future?
Since 2011, a lot has changed. Everyone is much more interested in food and health, and people know a lot more. Cooking books, television programs, food fairs, pop-up restaurants, new approaches to dining. Ottolenghi has written something like eight books in that time. So, whilst our mission is still the same, we have to meet the mentality of today. And as things continue to change, we will have to adapt. Whilst the vast majority of what we offer is healthy, we do have some treaty foods as well. But maybe that will change, slowly.
STACH feels local, and as you mentioned, creating a place that is comfortable is crucial. You also sell a lot of products from local suppliers. Why is the idea of local important to you?
I’m responsible for sourcing all of the products and those products fit into two main lines, one being from local suppliers. We want to work with people who are devoted to what they do and who are making incredible things. Small, local companies who start up in their mother’s kitchen or in a basement. I want to work with those people and sell their products. We have one lady who makes the best jam and that’s it, but she’s the kind of person we love working with. We now have over eighty different suppliers.
But at the same time, we have another line of products that isn’t local and we’re always looking for opportunities from further afield. In fact, a lot of our products come from Britain – they’re really good at packaging. But the suppliers we have there are also local in the sense of size and values, they’re just five hundred miles away. And that’s what’s important; regardless of where our suppliers are, they have to have the same mentality.
And why are corners important? STACH stores are nearly always on corners…
It’s so important. When people didn’t have mobile phones, corners were the meeting place. They’re also the places where you stop and look around and where you have more window space. Especially when STACH started out and people weren’t familiar with the brand, it was important people could look into these big, corner windows and see what we were selling. There’s a visibility to the products and brand through corner shops. I once had a store that wasn’t on a corner and we sold it in six months. No one ever came in. I’m a believer in the corner store.
STACH also works on a seasonal basis. Why is this?
We’re always looking at what people want. Autumn is coming and everyone wants to be healthy. So, we’re introducing a new ginger tea and a mushroom sandwich. We constantly ask what’s the season giving us and what do we want? Is it time for stew? A Dutch soup?
We also have our own production kitchen and that’s a lot of fun. Five years ago, if we wanted a new product, we had to go to a supplier and ask if they could make this or that. And sometimes that was a long process. But now with our own kitchen, we’re fast. So fast. If we want the best apple pie you can imagine, they can make it within a day and the next day it can be in the stores.
Which also supports and fuels innovation…
Exactly. We’re not doing it for the margins but to innovate faster. When it comes to innovation, we have three ‘pillars’. First, we make trend reports every year to see what’s happening in the world and how we can be first to bring those trends to STACH.
Second, because we want to stay ahead of the competition, and since the big supermarkets are introducing a lot of local, artisan products, we’re always on the lookout to see if our products are appearing in those places. If they are, we’ll get rid of them and look for something else.
And third, the seasons play their part in how we approach innovation. In reality, we’re a small company, but we believe that if we have enough new, exciting products, then we can stay ahead. So it’s also about survival. If we didn’t have this culture of constant and rapid innovation, and we stayed with the same products for a year, our sales would plummet.
How do you think about growth in relation to STACH’s ethos and the personal feeling your stores create? Do you ever think STACH could grow too quick and risk losing what makes it special? How do you see that balance?
I was the store manager in the first store we opened, six days a week; talking to customers, selling the products. And then as we grew, we hired a manager and another and another. We now have twenty stores. But I don’t think it was ever too fast, and in fact, there are times where I don’t think it was fast enough. I believe in our culture enough to confidently say that regardless of how fast we grow, we can maintain that STACH feeling.
And that has a lot to do with hiring the right people, those who share our values. When you work in a STACH store, sure you have to work hard, but you also have real ownership over that store. As an employee, you can taste every product in the store. Pick anything, try it and if you think it could be better, you can make your opinion heard and we will work to change that. So, whilst we have standardized some things, each store is its own entity and every employee has a lot of responsibility. I don’t think STACH will ever become a chain with no feeling.
How do you adapt the STACH brand to the various locations you have? Are there differences between the Amsterdam stores or between the stores in Amsterdam and Haarlem for instance? How do you maintain a consistent brand but acknowledge and respond to local attitudes?
We always look at who lives in what area, and the assortment of products each store sells is related to that. We have one store in a small village near Haarlem which has a quite a few restaurants, and that store has some really nice burgers stocked – which most other stores don’t have – because it fits well with how people see food in that area. With the store on Overtoom, lots of people live nearby and there’s a lot of tourists. So, we decided that we have to have sushi in that store to eat in or take away. Each location is different.
Is that ever challenging?
Yes. It’s tricky. We want to innovate everywhere – including the sushi – but it gets hard to innovate within each store, all the time. And in terms of scalability, how can we scale a business that varies so much? If you open your eyes in a Pret a Manger, you don’t know which city you’re in. I don’t want that, but it does work for scaling.
A good example of this is that we’ve just had meetings with a woman from Syria, who fled the country because of war. And we talked to her about working for STACH as ‘Head of Hummus’, because she makes truly incredible hummus, we have to have it. But if she’s making hummus in one shop, how do we get her hummus into every store? Working in the way we do is great for bringing customers amazing, tasty products, but it’s not without its challenges.
Could you talk a little about the value of partnerships and collaborations for STACH? You currently have collaborations with Nnea Pizza, Brandt & Levie and Butcha Kombucha to name a few. What do you feel they add to STACH and how do those initiatives fit into what you’re trying to achieve?
In a relationship between a retailer and a producer, both have to listen to each other. What does each party need and want? How can we be better together? What can we offer customers together that we couldn’t alone? Those conversations are a must. And I believe together is the way to be better.
At the moment we’re working with one of the best chocolate makers in town, Hans Mekking. He has a brand called Urban Cacao. I’m there every week with him, creating and testing and talking and reviewing. With his incredible knowledge and skill, and my input on what’s new and in demand in Amsterdam, together we can make products that are exciting for our customers. Such collaborations are a crucial part of our innovation strategy, and without working with so many fantastic people, it wouldn’t be possible to innovate like we do. Aside from that, it’s much more fun.
And more specifically, why are you excited about the new partnership with B. Amsterdam?
I think the partnership with B. is really special. It’s among the first of its kind for us, and B. is a place where you can be yourself, which is what STACH is all about. We really like that. If you’re there, things start to bubble, you get new ideas and it’s a positive place to be. For me, STACH’s values and B. Amsterdam’s values are close, so it felt a natural step to take. I’m excited to be in a space that feels very much like STACH.
You opened the first STACH in 2011. Looking back, what’s one thing that, in hindsight, was a mistake?
It’s a good question, but a hard one to answer. Mistakes are part of entrepreneurship, and you make a lot of them. And it’s important that people see mistakes as a natural occurrence, rather than getting too hung up on them. They can be opportunities to realize there’s a different way to do things, a chance to adjust and improve. In fact, I had a meeting yesterday and I commented that when I start something new, I’m used to failure. A lot of people laughed, but I simply see mistakes as points of adjustment. So, in answer to your question, I couldn’t pick one. There have been too many, but that’s okay.
As an entrepreneur, what makes you happy?
If we make a really good product with a supplier. For instance, banana bread is still a trend, people buy it like crazy. So, we’ve been working with a vegan bakery called Willem-Pie in the run-up to this autumn, and she made ninety versions of a ginger banana bread loaf before we decided that’s the one. We couldn’t be happier and that’ll be in our stores soon. That moment of realizing it’s the best possible product makes me very happy.
Also, our office is one block away from a STACH store, so when I see someone walking with a STACH bag, that’s still really special and it makes me very proud of what we’ve accomplished.
What have you got planned next for STACH?
We’re working on a hummus bar project, that’s one. Then with our new partner Vermaat, we’re looking at the possibility of opening something in Germany. And looking further ahead, I’d love to open something in London. Five years ago, my dream was to open a store in London, we even had a location. But we were too small back then and it wasn’t the right time. So maybe that will be on the cards.
And finally, what’s your favorite STACH product? If you had to pick one…
Can I have two? I love the smashed avocado sandwich. It’s simple; good bread, fresh salsa and great avocado. It hits the mark every time. And I’ve eaten a lot, so take my word. And I think my other product would have to be the ginger shot. It’s made for autumn.