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Charlotte Damen

We Own Rotterdam interviews Charlotte Damen, owner & creator of restaurant Lilith.





We chat to Charlotte Damen, the owner and creator of Lilith, about how she’s finding creative ways to deal with the current business closures and the importance of community building at work. Lilith is an all day vegetarian breakfast restaurant in the heart of Rotterdam – a local landmark for sure!




Tell us a little about your role within Lilith, and what excites you about being there?

There are many things which excite me about Lilith! Mainly, it’s our team. I never envisioned having such a large team of people working with me. I always figured it was nicer to have a super small business, but then I found out very quickly that you can get quite lonely if you are only with yourself all the time.


My role has changed a lot. When I started I used to be everything at once – I was the owner and creator of Lilith, but also the chef and the person doing the social media. Since I’ve opened my second restaurant (Pele Surf Shack in the Hoek van Holland) I haven’t been on the floor as much, and I miss it a lot! I’ve become more in the background, and it’s a role I’ve had to get used to but I really love it now.


Lilith was lucky enough to be able to expand over the past few years, and now we’ve grown into a team of around 25. The bigger the crew got the more exciting it became because it really started to feel like a community – that’s something that excites me the most. Work should be a fun place – we work for such a large part of our lives! Obviously our goal is to make our customers happy with delicious food, but colleagues are the most important ingredient to have a fun day at work.


Also, busy days. I love Sundays when it’s super busy. It’s kind of overwhelming and it can exhaust you after a few hours, but it’s also that eclectic vibe which is really special.





What 3 words would you use to describe the Lilith community?

Love – there is a lot of love. Friendship – there is a lot of friendship. And acceptance. Everyone is accepted for who they are, and the safety that people feel within the group has always been a very important part.




How have the current social restrictions due to the recent outbreak of Coronavirus affected the day-to-day operations of your business?

The current situation has affected the daily routine of Lilith 100% because we’ve had to close our doors for the time being. Initially I had lots of big plans for delivery and takeaway, but we couldn’t do it because I expect that it would get too crowded as Lilith is always busy. We’ve decided that health comes first. It’s really heartbreaking because Lilith is never closed! We’re usually open 7 days a week throughout the whole year.


Even though it’s a healthy business, this crisis is so big that I think no one is prepared for it. The whole perspective has changed. With a big team working and zero cash flow it’s affected the business big time, but we’ve got to stay trusting that it will be okay in the end.




Do you feel that these concerns are shared amongst other independent businesses here in Rotterdam?

Yes for sure, people are under a lot of stress at the moment. I’ve had so many friends who own restaurants call me in the past weeks wondering what to do next. There’s a lot of nice ideas about how to keep operating in the short-term, like takeaway services, but it can be tricky and it’s important to stay realistic. Instead of looking to the future it can be easy to try to make the best of the moment with a quick-fix, and I think that sometimes this can bring you further down because you are suddenly trying to do something that you usually don’t do, and without the proper tools in place. Whatever decision you make, especially in a crisis, it’s much more important to make a decision that’s ethical rather than a decision which makes you a little bit of money. If you’re a true entrepreneur, you can always build something up again from scratch.





Do you have any advice for other independent businesses, either here in Rotterdam or even more globally who are experiencing closures at the moment?

Well, as a business, if you’re closed you’re screwed – so you’ve gotta be creative. There is always a good side and a bad side to every situation – so try and find the good. Do the little things, but remember that you can’t do everything! I would love to re-do the whole place, but you need cash flow for that. Clean out the restaurant, do that deep-cleaning you always wanted to do. Try to find ways to sell other stuff online. But most importantly, keep the community close; make sure people don’t forget about you.


Also, take a rest! I was fighting against taking a rest for the first two weeks of the closure. Now I’ve reached a slowing down moment, and accepted that life is trying to teach me something.




How can the Rotterdam public help to support Lilith during this time, and far into the future?

Buy local and stay loyal to the places you love. A lot of places are launching webshops at the moment, so buy a voucher or a t-shirt from your favourite restaurant if you can. All these things help a little bit. And even if they don’t pay the bills, they show that people care, and that’s super nice.


We have started a webshop selling t-shirts and merchandise, which is something we always wanted to do. We are lucky enough to have a lot of very creative people in the team, and many talented artists who are all unemployed for the time being. The idea was to have everyone work together on the project, also as a move to keep the community together as a team. This way everyone can contribute and have the opportunity to have their work on a bigger platform. Then once we’re back up and running we’ll have a webshop full of Lilith-designed t-shirts which are made by the crew. It would be nice if everyone can get a percentage of the design they have made, so it works both ways and you have this whole community thing going on.


This is really my first time asking other people for help, which is something I’m absolutely not used to. Usually people come to me with a problem and I try my best to help them, so this was really hard for me. At the same time though it felt good to be able to say, ‘Hey guys, the restaurant is in rough weather at the moment – do you want to make a design for Lilith?”. I was really surprised how much people wanted to help. Whether it works or not, all the little bits of help are just so nice and so welcome. It’s not a money thing, it’s a community thing.




How does the Lilith community make you feel about the future?

Very good!! There is so much love in this group of people, even with so many team members coming and going. I believe that with this group we can really pick everything up right where we left it, and be even better when things return back to normal. Communities can continue to grow stronger even under bad circumstances. The future looks good! We’ve just gotta try and hold our breath until this moment is over.




What do you hope to take away from this experience, moving forward?

The whole slowing down thing, and to do nothing on a day. I’m one of those people who is always working, always stressing about something. I like to think of myself as a very spiritual person who leads a very balanced life, but if I’m really honest I was working way too many hours a week, and stressing about stuff that’s not really important. Everything seems so insignificant now.


It’s so important to care about your friends, care about your family and the things that really matter. I hope we all learn to make time for this. As a Lilith group I think we are a good half-way there.


I’m training myself to slow down. I’ve gotten so used to having 100 goals for a day, and now I’ve got maybe one or two. I keep trying to do nothing, but I end up making things. I’m making lamps out of seashells and I love it. I want to do that more often, it makes me so happy!




You can keep up to date with new Lilith merch and staff-designed t-shirts on their webshop.





Design by Hans Schuttenbeld






Design by our kitchen hero Jilles de Man







by Nicole Jessé

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