Pampalini Lunchroom

Interview with Behn Rakhshan of Pampalini Lunchroom

I had the opportunity to speak with co-owner of Pampalini Lunchroom on the Wittevrouwenstraat. I'd been a couple times to Pampalini and really enjoyed the hospitality, food and great coffee Behn Rakhshan has there on offer. I also found it interesting that he's a young man from Tehran, Iran, who, along with his brother Ramin Rakhshan, has endeavored to create his own business in Utrecht. While waiting for my order of Halim Bademjan (eggplant with meat and Persian bread with a creamy dip) I spoke with Arash Ghajarjazi, an Iranian student at Utrecht University and a regular at Pampalini. I asked him what he liked about the lunchroom. Arash told me, "There are lots of things here. This place has its own kind of character. There are more international people coming here. Students are the most frequent customers. The food is nice, it is Persian and you don't find it anywhere else in Utrecht. The first time I came I was surprised to see Iranians here because there aren't so many in Utrecht. I've been coming here since then. It's different here than other conventional places in Utrecht. Behn has a very personal service, he remembers the customers' names, what they like to eat, and in that sense it is special."

I ate my lunch (delicious!) and watched Behn at work. It was a busy Saturday afternoon and he had many customers. It was a nice, quiet and cozy atmosphere. I left to run some errands and returned as Behn was closing the cafe. He sat with me to tell me of his experiences as a business owner.

Darla: 
Can you tell us the story of Pampalini and how you got it started here in Utrecht?

Behn: 
Working with food was always a hobby for me, since the beginning. In 2004 I moved to Limburg with my family and was there for 10 years. Next to my study I worked in restaurants in Limburg. I moved to Utrecht two and a half years ago with my brother with the plan to open up a lunchroom/ coffee bar. Then I was 25 years old.

Darla: 
Wow, so that's quite a young age to have your own business, impressive! And what do you like about working in Utrecht?

Behn: 
Here it's very relaxed and casual. Many of our clients are students. People are respectful and friendly. It's a nice atmosphere to work in. It's also very international here. There's people coming from everywhere. It is nice to share stories with the customers, you learn a lot of things. Once I counted in my cafe there were people from 12 different countries at one time! Even some of those countries were at war with each other. But people are just nice, sitting here drinking coffee....

Darla: 
Has it been easy, having your own business in Utrecht? Maybe you can give some information for people who are thinking to do the same?

Behn: 
For sure not. It's never easy, having your own business. Its a lot of work! More than when you work for someone else 5 days a week. But you should give something to get something. Being your own boss you work very hard, you have a lot of responsibilities, always a lot of things to think about. Taking inventory, doing the accounting, maintenance of the restaurant, and then there's just the always being here serving your guests.

Darla: 
How has the business grown since you and your brother began it two and a half years ago?

Behn: 
In the beginning this place was not so well known. We had to work from the beginning, without network or friends in this city. We had to work our way up. Every day is better than the last, more people know about us now. Not everyone makes it in this business. You have to be prepared to work hard.

Darla: 
What's the reason you think your customers keep coming back?

Behn: 
Price, service, location, quality of the food, cleanliness, and that it's Persian and unique. Everyone has their own reasons.

Darla: 
Two of your customers I spoke with, Arash Ghajarjazi and Jelle Taks, mentioned to me they keep coming back because of your personalized service.

Behn: 
Yes, that is Iranian hospitality. We are friendly, more than the standard service you receive in this city. And there is no other place in Utrecht that has the combination of coffee and Persian food. There's a Persian restaurant here but it's for dinner.

Darla: 
You've lived many years already in the Netherlands. Do you still consider yourself an expat? And are expats here important for your business?

Behn: 
I consider myself Dutch. I've been here 12 years. I studied here, I work here, speak the language, and I don't plan on moving away. I would say expats account for about 40% of our business here at Pampalini, mostly they are students.

Darla: 
Do you visit your home country often and how would you compare life here to there?

Behn: 
Once in a few years I go back...The differences are, people are honest here in The Netherlands, an appointment is an appointment, yes is yes and no is no.. There's clean air. Whatever you want to arrange you can do it easily. You have freedom. There’s no corruption here. What I miss from Iran is the food, behavior of the people, weather. But that is not important, what's important to me now is my target, growing my business here.

Darla: 
And what are the goals to grow your business?

Behn: 
For the long term, my goal is to make this location, Pampalini, established as a base for the network and experience and to take this knowledge to create a new place.

Darla: 
Do you have tips for those wanting to start their own business in Utrecht?

Behn: 
They should do it only if they know how and if they like it...otherwise they will get bored and will burn out. So they should like it and they should know what they are doing. How higher you jump the more risk there is that you fall down, but the reward is worth it.

Darla: 
Thank you for doing this interview with me and good luck reaching your goal of growing your business further!

Behn: 
Thank you, too!