Can you describe what you do?
About two and a half years ago, I opened Leuven Central, a pub in Leuven’s city centre. Before that, it was known ’t Poske, an authentic café with a living and breathing history: a meeting point for locals, and especially the post-office workers from across the street. Five years ago, this authentic pub came to an abrupt end when its new owners tried to shape it into a new, fresh and crisp lounge-bar. That didn’t work out – and that’s when my associate Gie Raeymaekers and I came along. Together we transformed it into the pub that it is today: a low-threshold café that wants to do honour to the traditional and near-existent popular cafés from previous generations. That hopes to re-install a new kind of authenticity to the cityscape, and continues a long legacy of local history. My wife Caroline works alongside me, and it’s safe to say that things would not be running as smooth if it weren’t for her. She takes on a great deal of work in the pub, as well as cook all of our delicious food. And of course, I’m so grateful for my team who form the face and spirit of our café, and are just an all-round great bunch to work with.
I also started a second activity this July, involving an Octa+ gas-station in Wilsele, with the neighbourhood store Hermes attached next to it. It’s just around the corner from where I live, a quiet neighbourhood five km away from Leuven centre, together Caroline and my twin daughters. I split my pretty hectic, irregular schedule between Hermes and Leuven Central. I think it’s important to be active and present in anything that I do – for instance, you’ll find me behind the bar at Central every Monday and Friday nights, and cleaning the place on Sundays mornings. Wednesdays are my off-day though – strictly dedicated to my kids.
Leuven has given me certain qualities like friendliness, an easy-going attitude and open character.
How do you perceive Leuven?
Leuven is a large village captured within the historic walls of a small town. Almost everyone knows each other. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to stay unnoticed – this creates a very friendly, almost family-like, atmosphere. On a small surface, there’s a lot going on in Leuven. The University attracts as many students as there are inhabitants, which results in a pretty special interaction. Also, it guarantees innovation, and attracts many people and financing in domains such as high-tech, sports and health. Leuven also has a hidden yet vibrant cultural scene: concerts, expositions, museums and film programming all year round, and ranging from the mainstream up to the more alternative.
And then there are the innumerable local businesses, from clothing shops to restaurants, pubs to microbreweries. Leuven’s vibe is thanks to all these small entrepreneurs, challenging themselves to meet the ever-changing expectations of inhabitants and visitors. This combined with the historic cultural heritage which forms Leuven’s scenery makes for a really fun town to live in.
What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?
I sometimes have to remind myself – because I live in it every day – but what a beautiful, historical setting we get to live in! Wandering around in its streets, it’s easy to forget that we’re actually in the 21st Century. Together with its numerous parks, open places and small scale, the whole of the city is easily accessible and can be enjoyed at any time of the day.
There is one thing I do regret, though: I don’t really feel that there is an edge to the city. Leuven is an easy-going, clean and friendly town – but it still lacks some rawness. Our current Mayor did a great job of guiding the city to a higher scale, especially in light of all the urban decay between the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Unfortunately, by doing so the city lost its edge. There’s no more note-worthy discotheque to be found here anymore, after the loss of Silo nightclub; the red-light district has been removed; and the somewhat abandoned, industrial locations near the canal have been cleaned up and transformed into a dull and expensive investors’ haven. Fortunately, the Brussels metropole is near-by, with everything one could want and need.
How has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
I think Leuven has given me certain qualities like friendliness, an easy-going attitude and open character, always welcoming newcomers. Elements that are all indispensable when starting a business and making it in this sector.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
As I already stated, Leuven is missing a certain edge. In a way it’s somewhat dull and samey: the city makes it easy to blend into, but also won’t you let stand out. For some excitement or out-of-the box nightlife you can’t help but be drawn to other cities like Brussels, Antwerp or Liège / Luik. Thankfully, Leuven’s central location means that they’re never far away.
If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?
An evening in Leuven Central, of course. And the day after – nursing a decent hangover – I would take them to the market in centre of town, so that they can experience the mix between local life and its historical setting.facebook.com/leuvencentral