Behind the Values: Our Interview with Noé

The Van der Werf sisters on working with family, creating community, and the undeniable benefits to using better ingredients.

Noé's storefront welcomes passersby and regular clients from an historic space in Amsterdam | Photo by Gray Atkinson-Adams

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 Noé, a family-run, 100% Organic Boulangerie & Patisserie with three locations in Amsterdam.

Since Noé Boulangerie and Patisserie came to Vijzelgracht in late 2019, the neighborhood has changed for the better. Its sumptuous goods spark joy through the corner location’s stained glass windows. Residents now plan their mornings around daily stops by the sustainable, French bakery. As a result, we couldn’t help wanting to learn more about this wonderful, female-founded business, and right in time for Women’s History Month.

In our very first interview, we had a virtual sit down with Noé’s Founder, Martine Achy-van der Werf, and her sister and local partner, Sandra van der Werf. The heart warming conversation highlights the importance of sourcing right, eating well, and creating community.

Table Sage: Using 100% Bio ingredients is a core part of your brand— why are organic ingredients important to you?

Martine: While living in France, I became frustrated with the increasing mass production and consumption that I found. There were so many brands in the supermarkets, yet they were all same, and there was so little clarity in what was in each item. I was very motivated to know more— to know the producers behind what I was eating each day. “I was quite convinced that it’s better to consume local,” from a health standpoint, from an ecological perspective, and also for community.

Table Sage: Do you feel that these ingredients also yield a better product?  Was it a big step to include 100% Organic as a part of your brand to the extent that you did, or would you not have had it any other way?

Sandra: Organic ingredients absolutely yield higher quality products. When we were first trying out different flours, we brought the organic one to one of our expert bakers, and she was amazed. “There is so much difference in quality in this base product alone…it was really eye opening.” And, when you consider not only the base but the other ingredients that go into any one product, “It adds up.”

Martine: Yes, and as we don’t use any additives, the core ingredients need to be good… You really cannot mix bio and non-bio. In France, there are a lot of bakeries. For me, it only made sense to start if we were going to do something different. Because I know how much better it is for you to eat organic, and because I feel so strongly about upholding the French tradition of working with smaller producers, an all-organic company was the only way.

An assortment of Noé's freshly baked, 100% Bio breads and pastries | Photo by Gray Atkinson-Adams

Table Sage: How have you been able to keep an authentically French feel in your stores for local customers? Did you have a plan for this as you expanded, or has it come naturally?

Sandra: Our initial idea was to take the common impression that people have about eco products as being very rustic and to make it a bit more fancy, a bit more attractive. We really wanted to reach people in this way without using branding that was too polished. It was a challenge, although Dylan (Dylan Watson, Director of Operations) and I have done our best to create a nice atmosphere in Amsterdam with the team.

At first, we focused on just marketing our products and their ingredients, and then later we started integrating more information and visuals surrounding our stores and the people in them. Our strategy was to keep things natural, but to have the right tone. We’ve also been working together with Margot (Margot Perrotin, Project Manager), a French employee of ours who has a great eye for design. Over time, we’ve found the right way to represent the feeling that we've hoped to have come across.

Martine: “The French culture in Holland is like a little bit exotic…a little bit romantic.” It’s great that eating French products can already feel like a journey. And, as there is an association with France as, “the good life,” if we manage to integrate this while also responding to Dutch standards, then we’re in a good place.

Table Sage: Can you share a bit more about the family, and about how the name Noé came to be? Noé is the name of Martine’s son, correct?

Martine: Yes… I actually have four sons, and they were always running around our shops as kids, and got involved in the business quite early. My oldest is now working with me, and my second oldest is working more on the agricultural side of baking, in flour. Noé is currently 12 and may become more involved later on. We liked that it’s an international name that is easily pronounceable. Sometimes customers recognize him from photos— it’s a nice feeling.

We selected the rest of our team with quality of relationship in mind as well. Everyone feels like family, organizing events like aperitifs together. We have employees who are French, Dutch, English, and from other origins. All are open minded and open to discussion and ideas. One great thing about Amsterdam is that people are viewed to be equal to one another. In this way, everyone is welcome and eager to support and to feel responsible for the business.

Sandra: It also helps that everybody who works for us knows about everything that’s going on across our locations. We think that this sense of ownership and transparency really comes across to our customers as well, who we likewise consider to be a part of our family.

Especially when opening before Corona, we wanted our communities to know that we did not start to be another tourist baker shop. We actually left letters with the neighborhood residents to let them know that we existed for them. We could tell that this gesture was really appreciated and felt by our clients.

Sandra van der Werf (top left) and Martine Achy van der Werf (bottom) of Noé with Table Sage's Kaitlin Badger during their virtual conversation

Table Sage: That’s great to hear, and we also understand that bakers and staff work together to have Noé be as close to zero waste as possible, is that right?

Sandra: Yes, definitely. There are many French recipes that need for there to be day-old products or other by-products to use, so we make sure to always save scraps to turn into new items. The coffee grinds from the coffee that we serve in our shops is extracted by our pastry chef and repurposed as well. Now we sometimes even have to over-produce to create the “waste” items to reuse, as increasingly there are no leftovers from the days’ sales!

Table Sage: Wonderful… Our team has also noticed that there is some nice experimentation with recipes. How do you decide when to change a product or to introduce a brand new one?    

Sandra: Sometimes a baker thinks of something new over night, and comes in the next day wanting to try it out. We think that it’s important that our pastry chefs are able to express themselves, and to feel motivated at work. Almost always these innovations are well received. Other times, we consider bringing original recipes back.

We of course also add new items around the holidays. And then there are some local, Dutch holidays that we love to bake around and to honor as well— with a French twist. Then we experiment and taste results until we’ve created the right item, such as with our upcoming King’s Day pastries.

Table Sage: Along these lines, is there anything new that readers should know about and look forward to?  

Sandra: Well, Easter is coming up— these seasonal items will be communicated on Instagram. And then of course, there will be King’s Day.

Martine: And maybe a new store coming up, in the next weeks and months!

Sandra: Yes, if everything works out, we’ll open a fourth location in the center but more to the north, in an old part of Amsterdam where there are small, friendly neighborhoods. We have a French employee who is doing very well who will co-manage it. We think that it’s important that people who are committed to and involved in the company are supported to take on new challenges with us.

Noé's Nicolas Dumontier joyfully poses for Table Sage in front of the boulangerie's Vijzelgracht location | Photo by Gray Atkinson-Adams

Table Sage: Speaking of supporting others, as it’s Women's History Month, do you have any advice for women who are looking to create a career in baking, or in another food business?  

Martine: I think that women have a certain sensibility, more patience, and like to share. In my business, I’ve preferred to focus on what I know best, and to hire experts in fields that I’m not as comfortable with. I’ve not been afraid to admit needing help in some areas— especially as I’ve also wanted to have a family and some time to myself. Then, working with others and outsourcing has been absolutely necessary.

Sandra: My main advice is to, “Follow your instincts,” in business as in life. Women are more in touch with their gut feelings— they should use them, as from there, things tend to work out well. Of course, not being afraid to ask for help is important, as long as women are careful not to project an insecure or naïve presence. Ultimately, “I think women really know well” what to do and how to handle themselves and their work.

Table Sage: Well said… How has the experience of working together as sisters and family across countries been for you?

Sandra: It’s worked very well for us and has come about naturally… As we are quite similar, we haven't needed a lot of words to understand what the other is talking about. And although it’s always difficult to start up a new business, we’ve always been able to find solutions and to be there for one another as we move forward.

See Noé on Table Sage Locate >

In our interviews, we explore how the best eateries embody Conscious Dining values for the betterment of their business, the planet, and their communities.

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