Gijs: "We are brewing beer to give people a better future"

News overview

Rabauw beer is brewed by a colourful mix of people for whom life is both an adventure and a challenge. The socially inclusive brewery started in a beautiful old building in the southern Dutch town of Gemert, offering daytime activities, work experience and reintegration placements to people who face barriers to the job market. Using a contribution from the VriendenLoterij Fonds Rabauw expanded to a second location in Eindhoven in October 2021, creating even more work opportunities. We talked to founder Gijs Verhagen.

From passion to socially inclusive business

Together with two like-minded partners, Gijs started Rabauw in 2019 in a magnificent old building in Gemert. The concept didn’t fall from the sky. “Brewing beer was my hobby, so that’s where the passion came from,” he says. He was already an entrepreneur, running a catering business with co-founder Rik Feijen. Before that, he had worked for a well-known beer brand. The third co-founder, Ad Penninx, had a background in health care and education. Together, they hatched the idea of brewing craft beer while offering people job opportunities and a brighter future.

Expansion and custom training

The trio expanded to a second location in Eindhoven in 2021. “At a certain point, demand for our beer had grown so much, we were able to expand and help even more people,” Gijs says. The new location will soon boast a tasting room, where visitors will be able to enjoy lunch, dinner or a snack along with their beer. “When new staff members join us in Eindhoven, they can start in the brewery and then move on to the tasting room to get full training as cooks,” Gijs says. The work experience program takes account of individual needs. “It’s completely customised. People get as much time as they need.” In practice, that boils down to between six months and two years.

Helping employees to grow and flourish

The personal approach works. Gijs tells us about Teun, who joined the company while struggling to overcome a severe case of burnout. “At first, Teun could only work two half-days a week at most. He’s now moved on to a paid permanent position at Rabauw.”

Gijs is also proud of Pierre, a young man with autism. “When he started, he was going through a difficult time and could only work one morning a week at most. But now beer has become his passion. He took a beer sommelier’s course and earned his first ever diploma. It was a huge milestone for him. Now he handles all the tours and tastings and helps me to inspect the beer.”

Navigating a maze of laws and regulations

At the outset, the founders had to figure out how everything would work legally. “When we started Rabauw, we had to deal with loads of bureaucracy and rules around labour in the Netherlands,” Gijs says. “There are so many different laws and regulations, which ultimately don't help us to help people. They can make things more complicated. People who drop out of the labour process are subject to lots of different rules. There are many different reasons for dropping out, including disability. But every disability is subject to different laws and regulations.”

Support to boost social enterprises

The VriendenLoterij Fondsd supports Rabauw through its Social Entrepreneurship and Inclusion programme. “It’s hard for a start-up, especially a social enterprise, to get financing from a bank,” Gijs says. “The VriendenLoterij Fonds helped us enormously and also put their network at our disposal. When we were scaling up, they were able to respond quickly and get us everything we needed.”

‘Make a plan and get going’

According to Gijs, if you have a good plan, you should get started. “You may see obstacles ahead, but don’t let that discourage you. If you just go for it, you’ll get there sooner. Draft a concrete plan on a sheet of paper and get going.” He and his partners are still full of enthusiastic plans. “We want to start up more places like the one we’ve just opened, on a franchise model. That way we’ll be able to help even more people.”