Happy Tosti - Interview with Sam Holtus, Jasper Kool and Wibe Smulders

6 December, 2017
  • 8 min read
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Sam Holtus (2011) and Jasper Kool (2013) came up with the idea to start their own company about 3 years ago. Later on, Wibe Smulders (2012) joined the Happy Tosti team. With their concept they focus on combining the social aspect of having employees with a disability with a high-quality restaurant experience. This year, they won the prize for Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs at the Werktop 2017. We interviewed them to ask them more about this unique and successful concept.

Jasper Kool

Sam and I came up with the idea to start our own company about 3 years ago. We are both Hotelschool The Hague Alumni and that’s also where we met a couple of years ago, the same counts for Wibe who joined our team more recently. The initial business we have today started as Tosti van Josti. We changed the name in 2016 to Happy Tosti, because we believe it better represents what we are doing. We always wanted to start our own business in hospitality, so Sam and I decided to team up and give it a try. For me, it is the first actual job after graduating from Hotelschool The Hague. Sam gained more work experience because he was F&B Manager with Van der Valk Hotels for a number of years. Together we developed the concept Happy Tosti, and with this concept we focus on combining the social aspect of having employees with a small disability with a high-quality restaurant experience.

When we developed our concept, we looked at different possibilities to stand out from what everybody else was doing and at the same time we wanted to give back to the community. After some research, we saw that there is a big group of young individuals with a disability of some sort that can’t find a job, so we decided to try to hire and work with them. We made a 50/50 split among our employees, meaning that half of our employees have a disability and the other half are regular employees. With this concept, we are able to offer people with a disability a chance to work in a fun and exciting environment, and we pay them a regular salary. 

Sam Holtus

We have been up and running for 2 years now, the amount of staff has almost doubled during this time, which is fantastic. We just opened 2 new restaurants in Hoofddorp and Leiden, with the same concept as the one in The Hague. Because the company is growing so rapidly we asked Wibe to join our team and to help us put together a manual on how we want our future Managers to run their Happy Tosti restaurants. With two new restaurants, it will be hard to supervise everything all the time. That is why we believe a manual will help our future restaurant Managers to run the restaurants according to our vision. Through our personal experiences, we have learned thathaving everything written down works.

When Jasper and I started Happy Tosti we both wrote a business plan like you learn at Hotelschool The Hague, we gave each other feedback and worked out what we needed to change to get what we both wanted. It sounds like overdoing it, but when we look back, it saved us a lot of trouble. A big part of the success we have today comes through working problem evasive instead of problem solving. We put a lot of time and effort into communicating and providing each other with a clear picture of what we wanted to get out of this company and our vision on how to achieve that. We limit miscommunication and minimise problems, because we check things at least 6 times before implementing them. 

Wibe Smulders

I joined the Happy Tosti team recently but I already knew Jasper and Sam from my time studying at Hotelschool The Hague. I worked and studied in different countries before I got the opportunity to be part of this great company. For my last internship, I worked at the W Hotel in Bangkok, where I helped with the opening of the hotel. After that, I moved to Stockholm for 2 years to follow the Vita Futura programme offered by Starwood. I completed the management programme and worked for 1.5 years as a Duty Manager in a big corporate hotel. After working here for a certain period of time, I realised that I wanted to work somewhere where I could implement my ideas, somewhere with less restrictions on my creativity and overall I just wanted a job where I could make a notable difference. 

I decided to quit my job and was planning to take some time off to travel, then I came in contact with Sam and Jasper who were looking for somebody to help them with their company. We set up a meeting after, they offered me a job, and I accepted it without hesitation. I have helped with the preparations and the openings of the new restaurants in Leiden and Hoofddorp.

I am happy to say that I have no regrets joining Happy Tosti. It is a great place to develop my entrepreneurial skills and I really see potential in this company being able to grow into something huge in the near future.

Working at Happy Tosti

The biggest difference between Happy Tosti and other restaurants are obviously the employees. The fact that half of our staff has a disability makes us stand out and at the same time it makes working here a great experience. Seeing how happy we can make our employees by offering them a job gives such a tremendous feeling of fulfilment, which for us is more precious than gold. It is not always easy, but for us it is definitely worth it. 

Working here just never gets old. Having these great individuals around makes for a great working environment. It creates fun situations and anecdotes that we use on our social media platforms and in our restaurants. They are so positive, enthusiastic and straightforward that it’s really a joy working here. Guests are a little confused sometimes because they don’t always realise that we have a different kind of staff at first, but they are very enthusiastic about the concept and we get nothing but positive reactions on what we are doing here, which is fantastic.  

Future plans

We have our sights on the future and we believe that the two new openings in 2016 were just the beginning of something that has national, maybe even international potential.

We have just launched our franchise formula and we are planning to expand quickly within the Netherlands in the coming years. We are also developing our own bakery concept and we are looking into opportunities of using our way of doing business within other industries. We believe that when you have an idea, a good team of people around you and you’re willing to work hard, nothing is impossible and you can make your ideas a reality!

Are you interested in seeing more about our Alumni? Then check out the 3rd Edition of our HTH Alumni Magazine, the ALMA. 

About the author

Hotelschool The Hague

Hotelschool The Hague was founded and funded in 1929 by the hospitality industry to create a central place where industry partners could gain and share new insight, skills and knowledge. Since its foundation, the Hotelschool has become an international school specialised in hospitality management offering a 4-year Bachelor's degree in Hotel and Hospitality Management. This degree course is also available as the accelerated International Fast Track programme. Our 13 month Master Hospitality Management programme is designed to deliver the next generation of hospitality innovators.

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