Working Mum: Eline Baken – Blender, Amsterdam

She set up Blender – a kids’ concept store and café – in Amsterdam last year, while raising three young girls. After a lot of time, money and effort – it’s starting to pay off. We speak to Eline Baken about work and home life…

Eline, 35, lives in Amsterdam with her husband Jorrit and their three daughters: Lola, five, Pippa, three, and Pitou, two. They are currently building their own house.

(This interview was originally published in December 2015)

Where do you live and what’s your home like?
We have a small house in Amsterdam city centre. There’s lots of black and white, and basic colours. But with three kids it’s always a mess, with plenty of colourful things strewn about.

When did you open Blender, and why?
I opened in November 2014 with my business partner Rolien Pigeaud – a mother of three boys – following nine months of preparation. Rolien and I met at yoga when I was pregnant with my first daughter and she was expecting her second son. Now our children go to the same daycare and school.

We were unhappy in our former jobs and frustrated that we couldn’t go out for lunch or drinks at the weekend with our kids because normal cafés don’t appreciate kids trashing the place. At Blender, kids are allowed to trash the place.

It’s a café and concept store, what are you selling/offering?
Breakfast, lunch, snacks, drinks, alcohol. We have a special menu for kids. Lots of healthy (but yummy) food and drinks. We also sell kids’ clothes, toys, accessories for kids’ rooms, clothes for women, bags, wallets and other accessories and presents for adults.

Blender cafe -

We have a barber on Saturday, organise workshops like yoga for toddlers, and we have craft evenings for expats, so they can learn more about Dutch/Amsterdam culture. Lastly, we hire out Blender for parties during or after opening hours.

What types of people come into your store?
Mostly mums with small kids. Dads on the weekend (especially now that we sell alcohol). Sometimes grandparents and also tourists.

How many staff members do you employ?
About 10 (part time).

What does an average day look like for you and your family?
Jorrit participates more in the mornings, because he is better first thing than I am. We get up at 7.30, wake up the kids at 8. Jorrit and I shower, but not the kids.

We get dressed, eat breakfast (cereal/muesli/milk/yoghurt). I take Lola to school, Jorrit takes Pippa and Pitou to daycare. After school (five minutes from my house and from Blender) I bike to Blender and work there all day.

Blender - inside store -

I work full time Monday and Wednesday, a shorter day Tuesday and Thursday, with an hour off to take Pippa to speech lessons. Fridays I’m off, so have the whole day with the little ones. On Tuesday or Friday Lola often has a playdate at home.

It is supercool to set up a business of your own. You learn a lot. It is very hard work but it also gives you more freedom compared to working for a boss

I always pick the kids up from daycare. Jorrit is often home between 6.30 and 7pm. He makes dinner, we bath the kids and put them in bed, tell bedtime stories etc. Sometimes one of us does the kids, while the other one cleans up the mess downstairs.

Jorrit often works at night at home, or he goes out drinking with friends, or does sports, or we go out for dinner. I do more or less the same. I am often with friends in the evening. Especially with friends around the corner (smoke a cigarette and drink a glass of wine just for an hour or two – I love it!). I also watch more television than Jorrit. We go to bed around 11.30pm.

Blender - cafe food -

And how do you spend your weekends?
Often we have parties, kids’ parties, dinners, that kind of stuff. Sunday morning Lola takes swimming classes with a couple of friends. Sometimes we drive them.

Jorrit always buys the groceries with the bakfiets (a bike with a mini trailer that you can put a lot of groceries in). He takes the kids who want to go with him. Sometimes they all join him.

We often go to the zoo or swimming or we do an activity with the kids (there is always something to do with the kids in the city). We spend most of our time out of the house on the weekends, except for the mornings. We sit in our pyjamas all morning, reading the paper and the kids play on the iPad or with Lego.

What’s the hardest thing about setting up a shop?
That you have to do three million things at the same time and everything is important. It took a lot of time and we did not see our family much in the beginning.

Blender - toys -

And day-to-day, what’s the greatest challenge?
Employees who are sick, an oven that doesn’t work, failure in the payment system, costs that are too high, margins too low etc etc. For example, if an employee is sick on the weekend, you have to work yourself. That is tough if it happens too often when you have three children (and a husband).

In the end, revenue has to be higher than your costs. And you always have more costs than you thought.

What makes it worthwhile; what are the best things about running your own business?
It is supercool to set up a business of your own. You learn a lot. It is very hard work but it also gives you more freedom compared to working for a boss. I love it! It is so nice to do what you love. And it’s a big advantage that Blender is literally around the corner from my house, school and daycare. It is like living in a village.

Do you have any advice for other parents looking to set up a shop?
Don’t underestimate it. The first four months, we were working seven days a week until late in the evenings. It will cost a lot and take time and effort to set up a shop. But if you have a plan you believe in, go for it. You only live once! Worst case is that you fail. You’ll get over it.