Simone van Thull | Thull's Pickles & Stock
Simone van Thull set up shop on the Pretoriusstraat to sell her homemade pickles and pickled vegetables. Filled with hand-selected condiments and beautiful bread loaves from Restaurant As,
looks the way you wish your pantry did and is an inspiration for everyone who thinks vegetables in jars need to taste the way the supermarkets make them. They don’t. Simone tells us about making the switch from managing restaurants to managing the 3000 things a day you need to do to open your own shop. -
Text and photos by Hannah Fuellenkemper
Can you tell me about the store’s beginnings?
I’ve always loved cooking. I used to work as a restaurant manager and would make sure to stick close to the kitchen, helping the chefs with the menu. And for a long time I thought what I did was enough to feed my creativity and love for food… and it was… until it wasn’t. At one point I knew I had to do something for myself, something I could direct from A-Z. But I didn’t want to open a restaurant, so then what? Well, whilst I was cooking a few years ago, I discovered the joys of preserving food. All these ancient methods, essential to preserve food before we had refrigeration. I loved it. I loved seeing that I could be independent of the stores and preserve my own vegetables. I no longer had to buy the stuff I needed but didn’t really like. All of a sudden I had my pantry full of what I’d made and it felt really rich. It was so simple to make a good meal from my own stuff and I thought everyone would love this. Everyone would probably like to do this; they just didn’t have the time.
Plus the Dutch love stuff in jars and cans.
The Dutch, at least the older generation, are very practical with food. They know they have to eat their greens so they buy a can of peas and carrots and it doesn’t really matter if it’s mushy and tastes bad. So much of the food in Dutch supermarkets is bad, including meat and fish – you really have to try your best to get good food. That’s weird. Good food should be normal. Why are we buying garlic from China? How hard can it be to grow and sell our own in our own country?
People must be very surprised to taste the stuff you’re putting in jars then.
Of course there are people who come into my store who already know you can have nice food jarred, but others are completely surprised. They come in and have a taste of everything – that’s really nice. Some of them can’t believe it. For instance, I stock wonderful canned sardines from the oldest fish conserving company in the world, but the Dutch don’t believe it’s possible (nor do they believe they have to pay 4 euros for it).
They’re probably also surprised that there’s more to the choice of only sweet or sour.
Yes, that’s what everyone in Holland knows: sweet and sour pickles. It’s fun to show them otherwise.
And your recipes, everything you make here: how did you figure this all out?
I read a lot and experimented for years at home. I was finding that the recipes for pickling always had way too much salt. You need a balance between the salt and sour to preserve, but I found all the salt to spoil the taste of the vegetable. I kept testing different ratios to end up with exactly the right balance in taste and preserving qualities. Most other recipes wanted at least a double amount of salt. This is true also with the flavours: some, of course, are traditional, but with others, I experiment with different kinds of vinegar and spices.
Where do you get your vegetables?
I’ve found this to be really important if not the most important thing. So I’m really grateful to work with Kwekerij de Kerf, for example. Their organic vegetables are grown in floating gardens. My suppliers will text me when they’ve got something, pick it the next day and on the third day it’s in a jar. This is what makes my pickles so different from what you can buy elsewhere: if the vegetables have already been picked weeks ago, it loses its taste. And that’s what pickling is for: to preserve taste.
And backtracking a bit: what led you to set up your own shop?
The idea was in my head for two years already, and then in the last half a year it all happened. I started because this is what I love, not to get rich. My ambition is to make a healthy business, maybe open up a second shop, but ultimately I want to produce nice food in a nice place and to make people aware of good food. And I’ll just see what works: I have the pickles, a lunch shop, traiteur and you can book me for catering. So I’m flexible. I also like to be able to do a bit of everything: this is something I missed.
And actually starting your own shop?
I knew I wanted a place on this street [Pretouriusstraat] or the Java Straat. Actually, I wanted this place but when I started looking there was already an office in it. After 4-5 months had gone by, my neighbor called me and told me there’s a place coming free on this street, and I asked whether it was number 69 and she said yes, how did you know? It was the one I wanted! It’s also my year of birth so maybe that’s lucky... So then it went very fast. I was incredibly busy, doing 300 things a day and 12/13-hour days. I’m so glad to have had my experience as a manager of restaurants, which meant I was used to doing all sorts of different things and knew what to expect in running a business from the backside. Sure, I didn’t have experience in running a shop but I had experience in running a business. I had to produce a lot to fill the shop, which I was doing at home, and my partner helped me with the build up which took about 2 months. He’s a furniture maker and made and designed everything here whilst I worked on the rest. That was really nice, how we could both work together in order to make something come together. And I remember a week before the opening, he came in with the new tables and we put the chairs there. All of a sudden the sun came out and reflected ‘Thull’s’ from the window on the ground. That was such a magical moment.
Do you have any advice that you learned from the process of setting up your own business to pass on?
To ask. Ask for help and ask if you can pay less when you rent a place. Just ask. Try. Don’t take everything for granted. Things can be discussed and often people are willing to meet you halfway. Also, there are lots of people opening restaurants without experience and they think it’s easy money but it’s not. Not if you’re serving good food and good wine. You have to do these things because you really love them. If you want to get rich, open a snack bar.
Thank you, Simone, for taking the time to tell us about Thull’s. Thull’s is also open for lunch so there’s an extra reason to visit the store on Pretoriusstraat 69. You can also follow Thull’s on Facebook and Instagram .