Students

The end of a community

‘Working at Vapiano felt like a hobby’

If you worked at Vapiano, you were part of a community, students say. Now that the restaurant has suddenly closed, all that has fallen apart. ‘I don’t care about the job. This is about the people I got so attached to.’
19 March om 10:23 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 20 March 2024
om 15:12 uur.
March 19 at 10:23 AM.
Last modified on March 20, 2024
at 15:12 PM.
Avatar photo

Door Ingrid Ştefan

19 March om 10:23 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 20 March 2024
om 15:12 uur.
Avatar photo

By Ingrid Ştefan

March 19 at 10:23 AM.
Last modified on March 20, 2024
at 15:12 PM.

On March 4, a Monday, the Groningen Vapiano team woke up to an email urgently summoning everyone to a meeting at the restaurant that evening. It didn’t give a reason, it just stressed that it was important.

‘I suspected it was something bad, but I couldn’t even conceive of the possibility of a closure’, says Alexandra Vasilescu. ‘Especially because I had worked the night before and everything seemed alright.’

When she got to the building in the Poelestraat that evening, though, they were already clearing out the restaurant. ‘One of the managers broke the news to me. It was a shock, something from my worst nightmares.’ 

Low revenue

The Groningen branch of the Vapiano Italian fast food chain would be closing effective immediately, she learned, leaving some fifty employees, most of them students, without a job. The revenue is too low, according to the owners, and now that the rent discount it received from the municipality – first to attract the restaurant, then because of Covid – is coming to an end, the finances don’t add up anymore.  

Somehow the team worked so well; we just clicked

Alexandra, who recently graduated from the UG, had been working at Vapiano for two and a half years. ‘I went through all the stages of grief and I just started crying’, she says.

It wasn’t just Alexandra who got emotional because of the news: people were in tears everywhere. ‘When I found out, I just asked my manager to stop telling me more, because I would cry’, says Galia Seiranian, an international and European law student. 

Even though she had only been working at Vapiano for eight months, she had become very attached to the people and the work environment. ‘It didn’t feel like going to work, it felt like a hobby. I went there because I enjoyed it, and that’s thanks to the people’, she explains. ‘Everyone was kind and somehow the team worked so well. We just clicked.’

Sense of belonging

For Alexandra, too, it was all about the companionship. ‘We were spending so much time together. It felt like we were in high school’, she says. ‘And of course we’d complain about working during our shifts, but after finishing up we’d often sit together, grab a drink, and just talk. That fostered such a feeling of community’. 

Game design student Vadim Tilita had been on the team for a mere three months, but he also felt that sense of belonging. ‘When I had my interview, we hit it off immediately. Within the first week of working there, I had really bonded with the people.’

After finishing up we’d often sit together, grab a drink, and just talk

For him, it was all in the little things, like how he could speak openly to everyone. ‘Most of us were students, from waiters and chefs to managers. So there were no different ranks and you just felt comfortable’, he says. No one would be on his case, either. ‘I once talked to a guest for twenty minutes about pipes, and no one minded it.’ 

Alexandra credits the local managers for the close-knit community. ‘Because they were always our friends, and they treated all of us equally, regardless of the position we had’, she explains. 

The atmosphere was just gezellig, is how master student Jente, one of the managers, describes it. ‘We just accepted everybody for who they were. Everyone just let you be, so there was a sense of feeling comfortable, of having fun and joking around.’ 

Bonding experience

There was a sort of trauma-bonding, as well. ‘It was a chaotic environment at times’, according to Jente. ‘That’s what working in service looks like. But when you go through that together, it becomes a bonding experience.’ 

It meant that you could end up with a bunch of new friends, or even a relationship. ‘It’s a different type of friendship. I now have my first work friends, and that makes me feel very lucky’, Galia says.

It’s traumatising to wake up and find that you don’t have a job anymore

Jente, too, got to know some of her best friends at Vapiano in the five years she worked there. ‘I’ve witnessed friendships and relationships grow. We have three or four couples who met while working here and are still together.’

It is because of their co-workers that it is hard to let go of Vapiano, the students say. ‘I don’t care about the job. This is about the people I got so attached to’, explains Vadim. It’s a shared feeling among the team: ‘The work was nice, but it wasn’t revolutionary. The people were’, Jente says. ‘It’s weird to think I won’t get to see them every week anymore.’

Alexandra will miss those nights when they’d just closed the restaurant and they’d all gather on the rooftop terrace to listen to some music, smoke a few cigarettes, and maybe have a drink. ‘It was such a euphoric sentiment. You’re in your twenties and you have not a care in the world’, she says.

Insane

Some of them are still working at the restaurant, to finish packing up and to clean the building. After that, Vapiano headquarters has promised, they’ll be relocated to similar positions. Some of the employees, like Alexandra, have been sent for interviews at places like Happy Italy. Others are already working at Grand Cafe Time Out. 

To the students, though, that doesn’t really make it better. ‘The headquarters treated us very inhumanely. What they did was insane. You can’t go to work on Sunday and then on Monday witness everything being torn apart, while you had no idea they were planning to close’, Alexandra says. ‘It’s traumatising to wake up one day and find out that you don’t have a job anymore.’

But while it’s hard to accept that their community has come to an end, the students realise they need to move on. ‘It was very sad in the beginning, but it’s been two weeks’, says Jente. ‘Life goes on. So we’re trying to make the best out of the time we have left.’

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