Social enterprise Happy Tosti wins the incentive prize

In 2014, Sam Holtus and Jasper Kool, both graduates of the hotel and catering school in Scheveningen, launched a lunch restaurant in The Hague. From day one, their focus has been on quality products and service, and a strong restaurant brand concept offering jobs to people with an occupational disability. In an effort to boost social entrepreneurship, ABN AMRO launched the Social Incentive Scheme in 2017 to lend a helping hand to up-and-coming social entrepreneurs. Happy Tosti is the third company to receive €10,000 from the scheme.

Two years ago, ABN AMRO decided to focus on four sustainable themes: circularity, climate change, human rights and social entrepreneurship. The Social Incentive Scheme allows the bank to set its sights on social enterprises which not only place a premium on the common good, but also employ a solid revenue model. Three times a year, the bank donates €10,000 from the fund to a budding social enterprise. This time around, companies participating in the Social Incentive Scheme coaching programme were also eligible to enter.

After the three social start-ups had pitched their businesses, 120 social entrepreneurs were asked to choose a winner. The cash prize was awarded to Happy Tosti in December (tosti being the Dutch word for a toasted ham and cheese sandwich). The happy factor proved decisive, with Happy Tosti winning by a very large margin. Appropriately enough, the award ceremony was held during the Boost Your Business event, which the bank organises four times a year for entrepreneurs. The focus this time was on social entrepreneurship.

Happiness is key

One year after Happy Tosti got off the ground, Wibe Smulders joined the management team. He says, “Happy Tosti has been a success from day one. In addition to our restaurant in The Hague, we’ve now opened Happy Tostis in Leiden and Hoofddorp. In February, we’re also opening our first two franchises in Delft and Breda. We made the decision to look for entrepreneurs who fully embrace our concept. It’s so important that they’re fully integrated into the restaurant to really boost that happy factor. Our restaurants aren’t just about offering jobs to people with a disability – they’re also very emphatically about offering fun jobs to these people. At our company, happiness is key.”

Some sixty per cent of all Happy Tosti employees have some kind of disability. Smulders says, “That could be anything. No matter what their disability, though, all our employees receive personal support both on the job and one-on-one with a coach. That personal attention is essential and is often about basic things like making sure they get to work on time, comb their hair and iron their shirt. With each of our staff, we agree personal learning objectives. For one person, squeezing fresh orange juice might be a challenge, while we might need to help build someone else’s confidence to try and communicate with our English-speaking guests. For yet another, the objective may be to operate and clean the slicer independently at some point. Or make sure the whole kitchen is clean and close the restaurant following a strict procedure.”

Happy guests come back

The restaurant serves lunch all day long. Smulders says, “Guests can also order breakfast and even enjoy a “High Tos-Tea”. Our menu features all kinds of toasted sandwiches, but we also serve other products like panini, salads, yogurts, soups and fresh fruit juices. The quality of our products is paramount. We offer organic food wherever possible, but we feel it’s equally important to make conscious, quality-based choices. Our soups come from the Verspillingsfabriek [a company that repurposes discarded food from industrial waste flows]. And we’re teaming up with our current baker to open our own bakery where people with an occupational disability will also be working.”

The social aspect of the business adds value, too. Smulders explains: “It’s not like we’re shouting it from the rooftops. In fact, the information about the social impact we make is printed in very small letters on our menu. First and foremost, we’re a hospitality business offering quality products and service, which we hope will make our customers happy. In addition to that, we do all we can to keep our employees happy, too. Personal attention is our number-one priority. Whenever there are new ideas, we look very carefully at whether and how these might be feasible with our staff. Even if innovation is possible, at the end of the day it still has to contribute to their happiness. As a result, you quickly begin to see that, on an average working day, disabilities are completely irrelevant.”

The secret to success

For starters, Happy Tosti is a professional hospitality company. Smulders says, “The social aspect is also important, but you can’t build a company on that alone. We felt it was important to establish a strong restaurant brand concept. We think big and want to go international soon. The great thing is that we’re already successful on all these fronts. We’re among the top five restaurants in The Hague on TripAdvisor and were voted best 2017 start-up in the Retailer of the Year contest. Now we’ve won the ABN AMRO Social Incentive Scheme prize for our commitment to social entrepreneurship. In the coming months, we hope to professionalise our brand and further develop the franchise concept. ABN AMRO’s Social Incentive Scheme came at the perfect time, and we’re putting the money we’ve won towards achieving these goals.”

Smulders says he doesn’t see growth and profits as objectives in themselves. “We want to have an impact and just help make the world a little better. But you can’t do that in a vacuum. By thinking big, you really can make a difference, though. We’re very much focused on things like using biodegradable products, generating fewer carbon emissions and causing less waste. To that end, we work with as few suppliers as possible, ensure deliveries are packed efficiently and are always on the lookout for ways to cut food waste. We even use leftover bread crusts to make croutons for our soups and salads!”