Behind the Values: Our Interview with Dignità

A founding member of Amsterdam’s famed brunch spot and social enterprise shares more about the mission and business we all love.

Appetizing Amsterdam brunch dishes: vegetarian bowl, chicken sandwiches, poached eggs on hash browns, pancakes

“We decided that we would be a brunch restaurant, because international brunch was booming and there were not a lot of places that were serving it… Very soon the internships started taking place, and after that the trainees were able to join the team… We had to define our values and make a lot of decisions to balance the social and business needs.” | Photo courtesy of Dignità

People around the world are re-thinking what makes restaurants great.

In this interview series, Table Sage gets behind the scenes with local eateries that embody the best of Conscious Dining— a growing movement that values not only Cuisine but also the Experience, Story, Sustainability, and Diversity that goes into making meals meaningful.

Below, you'll learn more about Dignità, an undeniably delicious brunch restaurant that puts its profits towards a good cause. With three locations across Amsterdam and a growing presence in The Hague, the enterprise’s good work and business model are ones worth following.

Table Sage: Can you share a bit about how Not For Sale began in the Netherlands?  Did Dignità arise from the desire to support the non-profit, or did Dignità exist first and then look for a greater mission to adopt?

Marijn Vegter on behalf of Dignità: Not For Sale is an international organization with several projects, all looking to help victims of modern day slavery. In a nutshell, the Director of Not For Sale in the Netherlands was a social worker in the red light district of Amsterdam and was aware of problems of human trafficking in the city, among other exploitations— from cleaning to au pair work to physical labor—and got in contact with Not For Sale, sharing the local vision she had for the organization. From there, a partnership was formed.

She started a soup kitchen with a four day course for trainees, in which a diploma was given. The moment of receiving the certificate brought so much dignity and joy and self worth for the trainees that she saw it was something that should continue. It also proved the potential of scaling social work.

After a few years, with other business connections in the city wanting to support, we found experienced people to set up a restaurant. That took off six years ago— with a business director, our executive chef, and myself. We didn’t take the responsibility lightly. The social goal and business one were clearly on our minds so that we could create a safe environment and make good decisions. Not For Sale started Dignità. Internally, we see it as one. Externally, Not For Sale is the brand and Dignità is the business.

Dignita team members enjoy working at the Amsterdam restaurant and social enterprise

Photo courtesy of Dignità

We decided that we would be a brunch restaurant, because international brunch was booming and there were not a lot of places that were serving it. We had a really talented chef from New Zealand, and brunch hours are really convenient for trainees. We opened up quickly and it was quite an adventure; after 3-4 months we were already full on a Saturday. Very soon the internships started taking place, and after that the trainees were able to join the team. After a year, year and a half, things were coming together but we faced a lot of challenges, of course. We had to define our values and make a lot of decisions to balance the social and business needs.

We took over the Hoftuin location about two years later, with about 150 seats, and were able to fill it within a few weeks due to our brand and recognition, combined with the beautiful location. After some time to stabilize, it was possible to open a production kitchen that would support the restaurants, cater events, and sell whole cakes and pastry. It would also provide a safe, stress-free environment for trainees. During Corona, we opened our third restaurant near Westerpark, that we’re still exploring the potential of.

We have our sights set on The Hague, as there’s also a shelter there for victims of human trafficking. We’re looking to open a restaurant there by the end of the year, also to cover the costs of the trainings we are giving at the location. Likely we will also need a second or third location in The Hague to cover the budget. We expand to increase the impact we are making with the foundation.

Dignita highlights its pastries and baked goods with beautiful vanilla cake with seasonal raspberries on top

Photo courtesy of Dignità

Table Sage: Really inspiring work… What’s more, we’ve noticed that you source from a number of wonderful local suppliers.  Do you have any special criteria for selecting them, or has the process been a natural evolution over time?

Marijn: The Lindenhoff is a beautiful supplier, very close to Amsterdam, with farm products that have been our main source for unique ingredients, like the freshest eggs we can get. Lindenhoff also sources from other local farmers and partners of their business.

We have a great coffee roaster here in Amsterdam as well, Rum Baba. The people working there are very passionate. We have our own roast but are also talking about doing a cold brew together.

Sometimes we look for something like a good kombucha drink and look around, although it’s difficult to scale this way of searching. We’re already too big to source only from independent, local suppliers and maintain quality across locations— although, when we do, we definitely pick the right ones.

Dignita brunch restaurant features healthy dishes like this bowl of fresh fruit and nasturtiums

Photo courtesy of Dignità

Table Sage: We absolutely love your brunch menu.  Is there one special chef behind its creation, or have multiple chefs provided input over the years?

Marijn: Thank you. We try to give the best homemade quality we can— locally sourced, beautiful plates, with good service.

The three of us that started the first restaurant, including the chef, are all still involved. She is super talented, with a great palate. She really knows flavors and styles, does a lot of research and brings a very memorable quality to the restaurant. She also brought some of the international brunch culture to Amsterdam. We have a lot of healthy options, but also offer the indulgences that people want, like a beautifully presented stack of pancakes.

Since a year and a half ago, we also now have a head chef that brings his own experience into the menu, although the identity and dishes were already pretty thought through. He manages the four kitchens and adds new plates that fit into the style that guests have gotten to know.

Since the moment we started, our Benny Boy has never left our menu. It’s poached eggs with daily-made hollandaise sauce, our homemade hash brown, and then some bacon or avocado or home-cured salmon. It’s garnished really nicely and looks stunning on a plate. It’s a signature that we’ll never take off, like our pancakes. And then we do have seasonal toppings to go for a more wintery style, or summer-fresh stacks when appropriate.

Dignita favorite dish, the Benny Boy, contains hash browns, poached eggs, and avocado at Amsterdam best restaurant

Photo courtesy of Dignità

Table Sage: It sounds like you’ve been involved with quite a lot in your six years with the Dignità/ Not For Sale team! Could you tell us more about your experiences, and what you’re most proud of?

Marijn: Yes, in six years, there were different chapters and stages we went through. Of course, establishing a first restaurant that was successful felt really good. There was also definitely a milestone, where we had three restaurants and we saw that we could 100% cover the budget of the foundation with their profits. We were very happy that that was a success. Six years sounds like a long time but it’s relatively short, as it’s a difficult industry.

Personally, I really like that people visit us for the quality of the dishes and really come to enjoy it, and become fans of Dignità. We put it in all of the efforts— into both the plates and interpersonal connections. Often, after that moment of becoming a fan and looking forward to coming back for brunch, guests do hear of Not For Sale and hear about our story, and it’s a mind-blowing experience. Then they not only become a fan but also an ambassador of our brand. We see this so often and it’s a really nice confirmation that people appreciate what we’re doing. We’re not depending on the story of the non-profit, but hearing it leads to them wanting to really support the Dignità business further.

Our staff is seeing a new example of how a business can be run as well. We communicate our values very clearly, and it’s really important to show what it means to be a good employer. Being accountable and creating a safe environment does a lot of good to the people in the team.

There are also plenty of success stories about trainees finding new perspectives through our trainings and restaurants, and climbing up the hierarchy in a kitchen, and having new positions— even being able to step out of our restaurants and be independent. These stories are beautiful as well.

Beautiful Dignita restaurant has simple tables and natural lighting in Amsterdam

Photo courtesy of Dignità

Table Sage: It seems that Dignità is very much a people-first organization, although we understand that the organization and Not For Sale wish to remain discreet. Could you share more about this, and how you include subtle messaging in your branding and communications?

Marijn: That’s right. We are a social enterprise, and our foundation deals with victims of human trafficking with very fragile pasts… We don’t want to exploit our story for PR or marketing, and feel very strongly about not exploiting the exploited.

Our purpose as a “profit for non-profit” restaurant that is 100% owned by a foundation is to help the victims of human trafficking find new perspective in life as well as dignity—hence the name Dignità—by giving them training in hospitality, either front of house, or in kitchen work.

Our slogan is Eat well, do good. Eat well: We are quality-driven and are trying to be the best brunch in town (in how we treat our staff, deliver to guests, and also in how we run the business.) The ethos and vision that we have as a restaurant is well spread and well communicated to the entire staff. Do good: It’s why we exist, making Not For Sale independent of donations through a self-sustaining model that ensures the social impact that we want to make, over the next 10, 20, 100 years. It’s really nice to have these worlds meet and come together this way.

Beautiful park in Amsterdam is setting for brunch restaurant Dignita's outdoor dining area

Photo courtesy of Dignità

Table Sage: This has been such an enlightening conversation. Dignità really exemplifies our five values of Conscious Dining well, and sets itself apart as a great restaurant according to each of these new parameters.

Marijn: Yes, you said you’re really interested in what values also drive a restaurant… These are ours: Dignity, integrity and respect; commitment and passion; trustworthiness and the giving of trust; a drive for quality; teamwork; a focus on customers. These are values that we communicate often internally, although of course in real life we make mistakes. The goal is to do this perfectly, but we do reflect on ourselves and keep improving.

With all the online reviews, it’s really hard to set yourself apart. It seems that everybody puts a 1 or a 5 in, and there’s no interpretation of a 3 or a 4. People hardly ever give a moderate review; it’s kind of black and white, and gets frustrating. It’s very interesting to see how Table Sage is developing, and we’ll keep an eye out!

Table Sage interview with Dignita shows Kaitlin Badger with Marijn Vegter

Marijn Vegter, Operations Manager of Dignità/ Not For Sale in conversation with Kaitlin Badger for Table Sage

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