A visit to Amsterdam’s Duikelman kitchen shop

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love stores! One of my favourite ways to explore a new city is through its shops. I always wander through the supermarkets, and in the past I made sure to visit local department stores – but less so now as the swing away from department stores outside of Asia and the Middle East continues in Europe and the US bar very few. But the thing that I love the most is discovering ‘one off’, founder-led stores. And if I can talk and engage with an owner in the process, even better.

Last month, my colleague Elizabeth and I took the train to Amsterdam to catch up with some of our clients and candidates. A new modern train station in the centre is a fantastic way to arrive, and I headed straight to the Albert Hejn convenience store to compare and contrast it with the Simply Food in the stations in the UK (a very hard act to follow).

Spring in Amsterdam is always special, as the culture of growing flowers on the pavements alongside the canals make the city so colourful and vibrant. As in the UK, the move to online banking has meant that banks have been repurposed, and now the magnificent buildings are fabulous restaurants. Soho House was as buzzy as ever, filled with ‘media and music’ people, and there are dozens of exciting new concept stores dotted around the city. In the end though, it was a decades-old, family-owned kitchen shop – Duikelman – that caught my attention. It’s the must-see retailer in Amsterdam.

Duikelman is a maze of specialist kitchen equipment for home cooks and professional chefs.

We came across Duikelman by accident, stumbling across it on our way from our hotel in the De Pijp area of Amsterdam. It’s a fascinating part of the city: once the bohemian, working-class Latin Quarter, today De Pijp is a hotspot for independent boutiques, stylish restaurants and artisan coffee. Different communities have shaped the area over the years, from the Jewish families and Spanish workers who originally settled there to the young creatives who have made it their home today.

Duikelman sits on a small, quite quirky street in De Pijp, just off a busy shopping thoroughfare. The store was founded by Joop van Hal in 1940, originally as a butcher supplies shop, before pivoting to wholesale cook and kitchenware. The store’s name can be traced back to an invention made by Joop van Hal during the war – a special lamp that shone on the ground when pointed down, but switched off when pointed upwards, allowing users to avoid accidentally giving away their position to German occupiers in the air. The switch used in the lamp was called a ‘tumble’ switch – ‘Duikel’ in Dutch. So Joop van Hal became the ‘Duikel-man’. In 1980, Joop gave responsibility for the store to his daughter and her husband, Katja and Hans Appelboom. And at the turn of the millennium, today’s owner David Appelboom and his wife Christina took the reins.

The business has three sites, all within a stone’s throw away from each other. The first is a maze of specialist kitchen equipment for home cooks and professional chefs. The second sells table linen, curated crockery, and select tableware, offering a calmer and more merchandised environment than the flagship. And the third is for appliances, showcasing an impressive range of high-end ovens, fridges and other white goods, from Green Egg barbecues to Sub Zero fridges.

Duikelman was founded by Joop van Hal in 1940.

Duikelman’s first store was my favourite by far. The immediate impression when you walk through the door is disbelief at the sheer number of products on display. The walls are lined floor to ceiling with heavy steel shelves, each stacked precariously high with everything from pots and pans to specialist scrubbing brushes. The shop is organised into narrow aisles crammed with products, and it would be easy to get lost if it weren’t for the team of helpful and knowledgeable staff who are on hand as guides – visible, helpful, knowledgeable, and most importantly, available.

Duikelman has always been first and foremost about quality produce. Joop van Hal used to live on a farm outside of the city, and the story goes that he was inspired by the hardwearing tools used by visiting tradesmen. These were much better than anything you could pick up at a local shop, and so Joop decided to build his kitchen store into a place that made durable equipment available to everyone, not just professionals.

This philosophy has been carried through today. “We joke that our aim is to only see customers one or two times,” said Wouter, a store colleague who has been with Duikelman for fifteen years. “Any pan you buy here will last you a lifetime.”

“We joke that our aim is to only see customers one or two times. Any pan you buy here will last you a lifetime.”

It felt like there was nothing they didn’t stock. London does boast a few excellent kitchen shops, but nothing is quite like this. It could be because it blends professional and domestic equipment into one. I was hunting for a specific type of KitchenAid attachment (which I’d failed to find in any of my local kitchen shops) and of course they had just the one I needed.

Duikelman aims to offer the entire range of a product line, not just the best sellers.

“Most of our competitors only stock the best-selling sizes or models of each product,” said owner David Appelboom, “but we want to offer the whole range, and be able to provide alternative or additional options. Today, people come to us for the specific tools that they can’t find anywhere else.”

Customer service sits at the heart of Duikelman’s proposition. “Perhaps our most important strength is know-how,” David told me. “Most of our store team are ex chefs, who can advise from their own experience, and we make sure to really talk to our customers. We ask if you’re cooking on gas or induction, if you have kids, if you’re vegetarian. We sell all our pots and pans individually, not as sets, because everyone has different needs depending on their type of stove and their cooking habits.”

In no small part because of this approach, Duikelman has a deeply loyal customer base. They’ve kitted out superyachts and Michelin star restaurants, and David tells me that they frequently receive calls from customers who have moved abroad, requesting to be sent a much-missed kitchen item, like a small pot for boiling an egg.

The success of Duikelman is a lesson in retail identity. In a city increasingly known for its experiential shopping concepts, Duikelman provided the ultimate retail experience without having to try. It’s not pretending to be something it’s not, nor has it adapted its proposition or visual identity to try and appeal to a broader range of customers.

Thanks to a customer centric approach to retail, Duikelman has a deeply loyal customer base.

In my view, there’s nothing better than a specialty store. Last week I interviewed a candidate in the US who told me that his company had a plan to open 3,000 stores this year! While this is certainly exciting, I can’t help but think about the ‘mom and pop’ stores, and how hard it can be for ‘one offs’ to survive.

Shops like Duikelman are a much-needed reminder of how amazing specialist retail can be. For me, you can’t beat a shop with an expert team, a family history and jam-packed shelves. If you’re heading to Amsterdam soon, make sure you pay the store a visit!

Moira.benigson@thembsgroup.co.uk | @TheMBSGroup