The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Niels Brants and Romina Charels

Niels Brants and Romina Charels

Owners, EssenCiel and Merkat (1989 & 1993)

Can you describe what you do?

We own and run the restaurants EssenCiel and Merkat together, both located on the very cosy Muntstraat. It’s arguably Leuven’s most notorious street for fine dining – and all us restauranteurs are very well-acquainted.

How do you perceive Leuven?

The city of Leuven is a small community where everyone knows each other. It also has a lot to offer in terms of culture, its local beers, beautiful museums and the Oude Markt square, called the “longest bar in the world”. When comparing our fair Leuven with other similar cities, it could arguably be considered a large village.

What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

That’s a tough question, since Leuven has some very clear advantages. At least, for many of the visiting tourists, we’d say one of the main highlights is Leuven’s fine selection of local beers.

Our decision to set up our restaurants in the Muntstraat area definitely played – and continues to play – a huge role in our business growth.

How has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

Our decision to set up our restaurants in the Muntstraat area definitely played – and continues to play – a huge role in our business growth. Think of this street as the equivalent of Brussels’ Rue des Bouchers / Beenhouwersstraat. The City also collaborates with us frequently through their campaign Flanders Kitchen Talents, or restaurant listings in various magazines.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

We’d love to see more increased accessibility for people outside of the city. For instance, businessmen located outside the city ring often face difficulties in reaching the city-centre for a quick lunch.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

Fonske, or Fons Sapientiae, is one of us locals’ most beloved statues in downtown Leuven – the story behind it is pretty amusing, too. A representation of a young student reading a book, “consuming” knowledge in the form of water through his head – but seemingly this explanation was attributed much later. According to the sculptor Jef Claerhout, “It’s a sculpture of someone pouring a pint into his head, studying his behavior”. Student organisations weren’t a fan of this line of thinking though, and found it to be a caricature of the boozy student. Thus, the statue was renamed Bron Der Wijsheid, or “Source of Wisdom”.