The Antwerp Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

To mark the release of our Warriors edition, we've teamed up with This is Antwerp to bring you 100 Antwerp Warriors, a 100-strong selection of local movers and shakers setting the tone for the neighbourhood of tomorrow. From design and architecture to contemporary art and politics, these are the creatives shaping the narrative of the future.

Rob Berghmans

Rob Berghmans

Owner, Caffenation

Can you describe what you do? Where you are based, the neighbourhood you live in, your daily routine, the people you work with, the scene you feel the closest to.

Everything I do 24/7 has to do with coffee in one way or another: buying it, brewing it, selling it. We call our coffee Specialty Coffee because we know the beans like our babies, and we regularly travel to their source to meet the producers and exporters. We’re based in Antwerp. I wasn’t born here, but I found my perfect living base in Antwerp’s Zuid 30 years ago. The best place to run a bar is still the city centre, though. And I believe Berchem is going to be the new place to be. We’re starting up a brand new roastery over there, with its own distribution centre, lab and bar. My daily routine consists, obviously, of fresh filter coffee and mails before prepping the orders that need to go out. On a daily base we ship around 10 boxes of fresh coffee beans and tools and equipment. Half of them stay in Belgium, the other half is exported to espresso bars all over Europe. The rest of the day is variable. I work with people who are as crazy about coffee as me. We all breathe it. And we love the good life, which for us means good food, good drinks and physical exercise; biking, running, walking, etc. Coffee is our business, but not the only thing that keeps the blood flowing. The scene I feel the closest to? The hipster scene maybe? I know the term sounds stupid, and I don’t feel like one myself, but I don’t think there’s any other relevant name for progressive, open-minded, fashionable, foodie, creative and social media inspired kind of people.

How do you perceive Antwerp? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?

It’s a city with a progressive art scene. The more old-fashioned, traditional inhabitants of these city are, in my opinion, often too short-sighted, but the influence of people from all over Flanders and the rest of the globe gave the city a great buzz. The left wing feel is strong here, but it’s been getting a more and more liberal touch. I travel loads and I must say that the fashion sense in Antwerp doesn’t compare to any other place in the world. Starting from a very young age, people tend to dress in a very individual and unique manner, with lots of guts. And I do notice that young people here are pretty confident, verbally as well. I’d say that’s pretty admirable.

What would you say is Antwerp’s main appeal for creatives? What gives the city its edge?

The main appeal is that people can be themselves over here. Nobody is really hampering them. Also traveling from Antwerp is very easy.

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

The city’s more vibrant underground scene has always been very open minded, and encouraged me to be myself. And I believe the city influenced me by giving me the unstoppable urge to rethink and renew thing. Antwerp is a perfect breeding ground for people like me.

The more old-fashioned, traditional inhabitants of these city are, in my opinion, often too short-sighted, but the influence of people from all over Flanders and the rest of the globe gave the city a great buzz.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?

I’d like to see people, especially in the culinary scene, think more with their taste buds and less with their wallet or their interest in design and status. We miss progressive foodies over here. I hope I can be the right person to inspire them when it comes to coffee, but I would love to see more inspiring places for food and drinks. Hopefully we’ll be able to fill a couple of those gaps with our new project in Berchem, which launches around Easter this year. Also, transparency in business could be better. Caffenation shares all knowledge and even prices with everybody – we have nothing to hide.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Antwerp? If you had to take out-of- towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

Go shopping in the smaller street, maybe go to the market on Saturday, drink some beers and hang around the Leien. Berchem is going to be fantastic to hang out in and work in on weekdays, but I’m afraid that, during the weekends, it’s not going to be able to catch up with the city centre and the south. A hidden gem: just follow the river in any direction, and you’ll discover special and quiet places just next to town.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth you might want to share with us?

My first barista, Bert, was a local legend, but he moved to Amsterdam two years ago. As for a neighbourhood anecdote: when we had our first bar at Hopland, we ran into some troubles with a certain neighbour. In summer months he often complained several times a week, and the police decided to have an undercover visit to our bar. On exactly that day, the neighbour thought it a good idea to put some loudspeakers in his windows to tease us with some wickedly loud German music. The clients in our garden didn’t particularly like it, but they nonetheless decided they were going to live with it. The undercover cop passing by the scene understood directly which way the wind was blowing, and from that day on they started treating us with more respect.
Photography Thomas Ost