Fish & Nuts

Five years ago, Fish & Nuts was established on Koningsplein; a delicatessen where you can go for fresh fish, dishes and nuts. Or for a nice chat with Hassan, because it is also the social character of Fish & Nuts that makes more and more people in Tilburg return to this cosy little shop. We talk to Hassan about craftsmanship, creativity in corona time and social entrepreneurship.

How did you start with Fish & Nuts?

My father always had his own butcher's shop in Tilburg. So I came into contact with entrepreneurship and the retail trade at an early stage in my life. Nevertheless, my father advised me to study engineering, because that was where the future lay. So I first studied to become an electrical engineer, and because I wanted to work in the commercial field, I also studied business administration. After graduating, I started working as a manager at Veolia, where I also became a member of the works council. I learned a lot from that, but unfortunately Veolia withdrew from the Netherlands a few years ago. That made it difficult for me to grow there. That is when I decided to start my own business. In 2012 I started a fish shop in Tilburg Noord, which I ran for 1.5 years. In 2015 I started Fish & Nuts, here at Koningsplein.'

From Veolia to a fishshop, that is quite a change!

That's right! I wanted to start a delicatessen and introduce an innovative concept. Because of my father, I had quite some experience in the meat sector, but I didn't believe that was where the future lay. I decided to go for fish. That is really something for now, and fish also fits in with a healthy lifestyle.

Nuts were already a hype at the time and I knew a lot about them from my father's shop. I decided to bring the two together and the result is Fish & Nuts.

Does that mean you combine both products?

Not necessarily. In principle, we keep the fish and nuts separate, so that people with allergies can also succeed at Fish & Nuts. So you can come here for a single fish or nut, but the menu also has dishes in which they are combined. And would you like to cook something tasty at home that combines fish and nuts? Then we can of course advise you on that.

Fish & Nuts is now over 5 years old. What have those years been like?

I had a hard time at the beginning, but my own drive and my father's support kept me going. He told me to be patient. When you start living somewhere, the environment has to get used to you. It's the same with a shop. Slowly but surely, you build up a clientele. My vision was that instead of lots of customers, I would prefer to have a few regular customers who would come back regularly. That worked out well. In the beginning, it was mostly acquaintances who came to get some fish, but later on more and more people from the neighbourhood knew where to find me. Mainly through word-of-mouth advertising, I think.

Meanwhile, Fish & Nuts has become a much-loved business. How did it grow that way?

I can offer very nice products for a price that is affordable for the average Tilburger. Fish is not a luxury product, that is what it is made of. I think fish should also be affordable for people who are less fortunate.

I prepare my products in a traditional way. I am a perfectionist, for example I put the pieces of kibbeling in the oil one by one. That way it becomes really nice kibbeling. Sometimes I hear people say that they've never had such good kibbeling. I think it's the passion that you taste.

Finally, I think many people feel at home here. Everyone is welcome here, even just for a chat or a word of comfort. And if you are homeless or in debt, you can also come here to pick up something. Thanks to donations from a number of regular customers, we have a fund that we can use to pay for meals for people who are less fortunate.

You are very sociable. Where does that come from?

As an entrepreneur, I naturally want to provide myself with income, but I find it even more important to help others. I get that from my father. I used to see in his shop how generous he was. If someone came in who had nothing, he would just give them food. No discussion.

As a business student, I sometimes asked him if he realised how much he had given away in a month. It was quite a lot! Now I realise that it is precisely this social aspect that gives you added value as a company. And you get a lot in return. Whether it is a tip, love or a smile. It is all worth it.

It sounds like your father has been very important in your (entrepreneurial) life.

That's right. I learned a lot from him: To be patient, but also, for example, how to decorate your showcase. Unfortunately, he passed away unexpectedly in December. That was quite a blow and it was very difficult for me for a while. He had done so much for me, I would have liked to do something for him in his old age. In that respect, a bit of motivation fell away. Yet I gave it a place and carried on. Because it doesn't stop here: my father can still be proud. Besides, I still have a mother to take care of. I persevered and now things are actually going very well.

Tell us?

It is extremely busy! Because I could no longer serve food due to the corona measures, I started to focus on retail. Less selling of ready-made meals and more fresh fish, nuts and shrimps that people can prepare themselves at home.

The corona time has made me even more creative. A while back, for example, I heard about a Spanish business in Den Bosch that was going to stop. I took over all their paella pans and now sell fresh paella for the home. Customers can keep the pan. Through entrepreneurship and thinking outside the box, last year was the best year since Fish & Nuts was founded. That's good to know.