Favourite spot

Said Belhadj: Het Hof van Cartesius

Prominent Utrechters talking about their favourite spots in the city. This month: Said Belhadj, co-owner of Puha design shop and founder of the Raphia shoe brand, in Het Hof van Cartesius: a circular built creative hotspot on Vlampijpstraat.

So, Het Hof van Cartesius?
‘Yes. It’s such a great place, a prime example of how you can do things differently. The buildings housing the workshops are all made from discarded materials, such as train windows and sections of national railways platforms. I share a studio there for developing and producing my brand Raphia, shoes that are made in Morrocco from nerves of palm leaves. Het Hof has a fabulous garden, which we all take care of together, you can follow workshops given by the circular building merchants Buurman, have a drink and a bite to eat at Warmoes, and go to the organic hair salon. All of the entrepreneurs based here have a link with sustainability. It’s inspirational and fun. In fact we sometimes have so much fun that we don’t get any work done. Ha-ha.’

Guilty pleasure?
‘My girlfriend and I love cooking and we always try to eat healthily. But we allow ourselves chips and mayonnaise every now and then. I love the chips at Meneer Smakers on Twijnstraat and Oudegracht. I’m also partial to a late-night portion of chips from Ten Beste on Predikherenstraat.’

Best memory?
‘Ten years ago, when we opened Puha at our current location on Voorstraat. We started out selling fashion and accessories made by young Dutch designers. I was blown away by the new premises – so open and light and with great neighbours. We started to do better there too, because we were much more visible. Our first shop was on the infamous Hardebollenstraat; a side street of Voorstraat, a well-known red light district in Utrecht. We had good times there, but the shop (a former ‘love room’) eventually became too small.’

Best coffee?
‘Ooh that’s a tricky one. I like all kinds of different coffees. But Ohøj Coffee Roasting on Rijnlaan, not far from where I live in the Dichters neighbourhood, is definitely one of my favourite places. The owner, Kevin, is a purist and only serves coffee that he’s roasted himself. You can’t get cakes or croissants there, and Ohøj is only open until 13.00. What’s more, Kevin (a real coffee nerd) runs the place on his own and can’t always cope when it gets busy.’

The last time you cried?
‘Watching the film Acht Bergen in the City cinema. It’s about a city boy and a country boy, who form a very close friendship despite their totally different backgrounds. I think it moved me so much because I’m a real city boy, born and bred in Utrecht, but I hanker for the outdoor life. I must get it from my father, who was born on a mountaintop close to the Moroccan Rif Mountains. Before emigrating to the Netherlands in the mid-1960s to work in a textile factory, he was a tailor in the city of Tétouan. This probably explains why I went into the fashion industry.’

Latest discovery?
‘The Serró Fine Knits wool brand, sold by an Italian living in Weesp. We sell their classic sleeveless sweaters with a trendy twist in Puha. They’re made by the Italian family concern Sergio Paciello, which uses beautiful materials and great colour combinations. The thing I love about these small labels, apart from their original character, is the fact that you know where and how the products are made. I’m keen on consumer awareness; I go to the farmers’ market on Vredenburg, for example. Not long ago, I went to the Greek shop called Rigakis on Amsterdamsestraatweg, where my father used to buy his filo pastry. It’s still run by the 80-year-old owner and her daughter. I love that shops like this are still surviving alongside the large-scale supermarkets.’


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