Pauline and her husband, based in Brussels and both coming from the advertising world, recently jumped into a completely different adventure together: a couple of weeks ago they launched Josaphine’s, a food kiosk in Parc Josaphat. And while these kind of little guingettes are becoming increasingly popular all over the city’s green oases, Josaphine’s offers something extra special: a full-blown picnic experience. We spoke to Pauline about the original concept, Brussels catching up with New York’s Central Park, what makes a perfect picnic basket, and more.
What exactly is Josaphine’s? Can you explain the concept of your project?
It’s a little food kiosk in the middle of the Josaphat park in Schaerbeek. It not only offers so-called park food such as hotdogs, bagels, croque monsieurs, muffins or donuts, but also picnic baskets.
How did you get this picnic basket idea? It’s something completely new in Brussels, maybe even in Belgium.
Josaphine’s is born from the desire to install a real “park life” in Brussels, as it is already the case in bigger cities such as New York and London. I used to live in London actually, in a teeny tiny apartment (as a lot of people there, for that matter!). So when you don’t have a huge house with a big garden and the weather is nice, people gather in Hyde Park for example to meet, have a drink, play music, … When I visit my friends who are living in New York, it’s the same: we’d hang out in Central Park a lot. Of course, the pace of cities like NYC and London can not be 100% compared with Brussels, but spending time here in the Josaphat park surely brought back some of these wonderful memories.
In big cities, when the weather is good, parks are the central meeting point for families and friends who want to enjoy a stretch of green grass and a ray of sun. By offering ready-made picnic baskets, we want to promote and facilitate this: people can enjoy a nice picnic without having to worry about anything. You don’t have to plan and prepare, just come and enjoy it. Josaphat park has already been launching a lot of cultural and entertaining initiatives to boost park life in Schaerbeek, especially during the summer holidays. And we wanted to complement these initiatives with a new park food & picnic experience.
Is there something in the baskets besides food?
Our baskets come fully equipped: there’s everything you need for a picnic with four people: porcelain plates, stainless steel cutlery, glasses, a corkscrew, napkins, … we even throw in a waterproof blanket so you can sit comfortably. When buying a basket, you can also use our outdoor games for free, such as molkky, kubb, croquet, mini golf, frisbee, …
What’s your background? Why did you want to do this? Have you worked in the food business before?
My husband and I both work in advertising. 12 years ago my husband decided to open a bar in his hometown Mechelen as a side business. Then he opened a third one three years ago and inspired me with his passion for the HoReCa business and his entrepreneurial spirit. Personally, I just love food. A lot. Really! I cook a lot for my family and friends and I’m always curious to discover new tastes, dishes, places and concepts. Together with my husband I wanted to do something that could combine our joint passion and expertise. And as parents of young children, we are regulars at the Josaphat park playground, meaning we were familiar with the little kiosk selling sweets and popsicles in the park, and we always talked about what we could do if we were to run it ourselves. And then one day, there was a public offering to propose a new concept for the place… and we just jumped on it.
How did you decide what to put in the baskets? Did you do a lot of test picnics?
I first thought about what I love to bring to a picnic myself. And then, we worked around five values that we hold dear:
Zero waste: the picnic baskets allow us to avoid plastic waste and to propose sustainable alternatives such as glass jars.
Local: we try to put local products in our baskets to promote local businesses. That’s the case for the coffee and the honey for example.
Bio: the majority of our products (bread, fruits, vegetables, humus, beer, honey, cheese,…) are bio.
A listening ear: for the composition of our baskets we conducted a little survey in order to find out what people would love to have in a picnic basket. This is an ongoing process for us; we are always listening to see how we can improve and adapt our offering.
Surprise: we love to surprise people. First with our concept but also with the kind of food we propose. That’s why we like to give some traditional recipes a surprising twist, like our Vietnamese Bahn Mi dog and homemade chili dog.
What kind of food is inside the basket? Is there a vegetarian option as well?
We have two formulas: brunch and apéro. The first features all the necessary ingredients for a great brunch: baguette, pastries, eggs, cheese, charcuterie, yoghurt, muesli, fresh fruit, fresh orange juice, jam, honey and hot coffee, tea or chocolate. The apéro formula includes a variety of delicacies such as mature cheese (Vieux Bruxelles), dry sausage, baguette, grissini, olive spread, homemade spicy meatballs, a Caprese salad, humus with fresh carrot and cucumber sticks, grapes, dry fruits & nuts, cream cheese with herbs, rosemary potato chips,… and you can choose between a big bottle of wine (red, white or rosé), bio beers, or four soft drinks. For both baskets, we also offer vegetarian options. In the apéro basket, the meatballs are replaced with falafels and the dry sausage is replaced with beetroot humus, for instance.
Why Park Josaphat and not another one?
Not another one….yet! We launched Josaphine’s in the Josaphat park for many reasons. First, it’s one of the most beautiful parks in Brussels. You really have a Central Park feeling (at least a mini version of it!) when you walk through the park. Secondly, they really understand the park life concept there, as they already organize a lot of activities throughout the year in the park. So we were on the same wavelength. And finally, we live only five minutes away from the park. So it was natural for us to launch the first Josaphine’s in this park. But we think the concept could work in many other ones in Brussels or in other cities as well.
How will you deal with the unpredictable Belgian weather? Are you worried about that?
I practice a sun dance 😉 Just kidding, I’m an natural optimist so I don’t have room for worries. And as I was born here, I know when it is going to rain. Clearly, the weather in Belgium is an important unpredictable factor if you launch an outdoor picnic business. But we already have some ideas for the winter. So if the weather is too bad, we’ll just have to adapt. But let’s be positive and dance for the sun in the meantime!