ASTANA – Global fascination with coffee culture has transformed the industry into a trend. For over half a year, an entrepreneur from Kazakhstan Talgat Aubakirov has been learning the business features of this fast-paced sector in the Netherlands. In an interview with The Astana Times, he shared a story of opening the first-ever Kazakh enterprise in Amsterdam – the Qazaq Coffee house.
Aubakirov is a former financier with 10 years of expertise. He moved to the European city from Almaty with his family a year ago and launched his business from scratch in June last year. Having set a goal to combine national attributes with modern tendencies, he decided to cultivate the Kazakh identity abroad.
Located in the old part of Amsterdam, a few blocks from Vondelpark, the largest park in the city, the Qazaq Coffee house has become a stomping ground for local citizens and fellow Kazakh citizens for the eight months of its work.
The concept of the Qazaq Coffee house
The entrepreneur and his spouse came up with the idea of producing the Qazaq blend – they roast their own coffee by mixing three types of coffee beans from different countries.
“There are many market players from whom you can buy ready-made coffee beans and sell them in a coffee house. This is the easiest way. In our case, we wanted something unique and started mixing things up. My wife and I went to different places and tried a raft of coffee flavors. It is imperative to have a quality product and it was part of our concept. As a result, we found the right balance,” he said.
“Coffee culture is developed here in the Netherlands. I can say that a person who lives in Amsterdam knows what a good coffee is,” added Aubakirov.
The coffee packs, which Aubakirov sells to his clients, contain a caption “inspired in Almaty and roasted in Amsterdam.” He buys coffee beans from the coffee roasting companies in the Netherlands owned by his friends who he was lucky to get to know upon arrival.
“This is my first business experience and the most convenient business option in the horeca [short for hotels, restaurants, and catering] industry. I decided to start my entrepreneurship with the coffee shop,” said Aubakirov.
The young couple organized a cozy corner with national attributes for the clients to learn more about Kazakhstan while waiting for the order. A warming and welcoming atmosphere reflects Kazakh people’s mentality. Aubakirov noted that Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the Netherlands Askar Zhumagaliyev has also visited the opening of the coffee house.
“We have this zest of hospitality that the locals here like a lot,” he noted.
Tea vs. coffee
Among all the beverages, tea and dairy products have been in great demand in the Central Asian country for ages. The tea drinking culture is not only considered a compulsory element of a daily ration, but a tradition that brings family members together for a joint pastime.
Apart from coffee options, the Qazaq Coffee menu also offers the Qazaq tea drink, a traditional black tea with milk and a special millet.
“Some guests say that Kazakhstan is a tea country, not a coffee country. However, our coffee industry is also developing rapidly. Today, everyone starts their morning with a cup of coffee,” he said.
One of the world’s top tea-consuming nations, Kazakhs now gravitate towards a working rhythm driven by fast-growing urbanization, the willingness to boost productivity, and the propensity for adopting foreign habits.
“I am very proud to be Kazakh. In Turkic language, the word means ‘a free person.’ The nomadic spirit speaks for our lifestyle. It also describes me and my path as an adventurer. We, Kazakhs, love to travel and discover the world,” noted Aubakirov.
When asked about the name of the coffee house, the entrepreneur said the idea was born during his meeting with a business partner. “I was sitting in a hoodie from the Qazaq Republic clothing brand. He asked me about the meaning of the word and suggested that I consider this name for a coffee shop,” he said.
Family and business
The coffee house is a family business, said Aubakirov, highlighting tremendous support from his wife and children.
“I am a family man. The connection between family and business is obvious. We have a lot of conversations at home about it,” he noted.
Aubakirov brought an example of one of these home discussions with kids, who study in a local Dutch school.
“When I didn’t have enough money for some equipment, I had to borrow it from my children – their stash. When it was time for the return, they told me there was no need. Instead, my kids asked me to make them co-founders of the business, and, by the end of each year, to pay back the interest,” he said.
When describing the first year of his life in the Netherlands for a school assignment, Aubakirov’s son mentioned his father’s business in a wall newspaper. “My dad opened a coffee shop here. We go there every weekend,” Aubakirov proudly cited his child.
Behind the scenes
Speaking about investments, he said that on average, it takes up to 100,000 euros (US$109,000) to open a coffee house in Europe.
“The business was launched with minimal investments on my personal savings and family funds, without partners. Within six months, I realized that the chosen model was working. When we decide to expand, of course, I’ll start looking for investors,” he said.
The younger generation in Kazakhstan, which constitutes the majority of its population, has a lot of business ambitions. According to Aubakirov, there are two crucial elements for the launch of an entrepreneurial journey – the intention and the risk.
“I can’t call myself a businessman, I’m an aspiring entrepreneur and a dreamer with plans he wants to turn into reality. Everything that God gives depends on the right intentions. The second aspect is the risk. Without a risk, a person will not be able to succeed,” he said.
The coffee house founder runs the enterprise himself daily. Kazakhs living abroad often ask Aubakirov if it is worth starting business activities in the Netherlands.
“Business should be part of life. Regardless of whether it is the Netherlands, Kazakhstan, or any other country in the world, no one will ever answer this question. In my understanding, business is not only a place to earn money, but the brainchild to be focused on,” he said.
The main factor in the economy’s sustainable development is entrepreneurship’s ability to adapt to changing market conditions. The Kazakh government continues to facilitate business activities in the country. As of July last year, the number of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in Kazakhstan increased by 23.4% to nearly 2 million.
“The opening of a business in Kazakhstan is a 15-minute online process. In this regard, there are a lot of registered inactive companies in the country. As for the Netherlands, not all processes are digitized. However, all the rules regarding business are very clear,” he said.
Aubakirov recalled the process of registering a company in Amsterdam, emphasizing the effectiveness of business processes in the country.
“When opening a company, respective authorities conduct interviews. They request information, such as business plans or photos, and ask to confirm sufficient financial resources,” he said.
Aubakirov’s case continues to inspire and bring attention. A career switch and a bold decision to launch a business journey away from home met the expectations. The Qazaq Coffee house awaits its guests on Zeilstraat 45-H, 1075SC, ready to offer its special Central Asian blend.