Once upon a time, there was an engineer who started a fish restaurant… The beginning of an extraordinary story called Bru17. The engineer in question is called Niels Habraken and why he started a fish restaurant? Probably because of the salty water running through his veins. Raised in the fishing village of Bruinisse, family working in fisheries and a father with a fish shop at the fish auction in Stellendam. So at the Habraken family kitchen table, fish was a frequent topic of conversation.
Niels remembers Willem, a good friend of his father, well. With his brother Leen, Willem owned the fastest mussel cutter in the Bru’se fleet. Along with the best mussels, Willem regularly brought the best stories to Niels’ parental home. No storm too tempestuous or the brothers would set off again towards the Wadden Sea, Oosterschelde or Grevelingen. Little Niels needed little imagination to see his village heroes battling the elements. Pirates they were, taking home mussels instead of gold. And the name of their ship? The Zeelandia Bru 17.
Although Niels enjoyed helping in his father’s fish shop, he saw the value of a good education. On two occasions he graduated from Zeeland High School. First Aquatic Ecotechnology and then Civil Engineering. During one of his graduation projects, Niels immersed himself in the development of the Eastern Scheldt after the Japanese oyster made its appearance. The scientific side of water fascinated but a job behind a desk proved no solution for life. The salty water flowed where it couldn’t go. More and more days off were freed up for the fish shop in Stellendam. The love for his village Bruinisse, living with the water and a trained eye for the very best fish came together in the idea of starting a fish restaurant in Bruinisse. Preferably on the harbour platform with a fish shop next to it.
Enthusiastically, Niels talks about Bruinisse’s unique location. The fishing fleet still in the middle of the village with, on the one hand, the Grevelingen, Europe’s largest and cleanest saltwater lake. And on the other, the Zype which connects to the Oosterschelde and forms part of the largest national park in the Netherlands. How lucky that his great love Maria also comes from a Bru’se family and not only understood him and embraced his idea but even jumped on board the restaurant that should almost naturally be called Bru 17. Sadly, Willem and Leen did not live to see it but how special that the widows were moved to open the restaurant in 2011.
Small detail in the big picture was the lack of catering experience but even this challenge was overcome as Niels managed to put together a top team. At the head of the kitchen is Joost Deurloo, a highly experienced chef who has even become Dutch oyster-stitching champion four times. He even represented our country at the world championships at the International Oyster Festival in Galway, Ireland.
With two fish shops and a restaurant, it is clear that entrepreneurship suits Niels and it is hard to imagine him spending whole days behind a desk. Although it seems Bru17 has entered calmer waters, Niels is preparing for the next storm. Together with the municipality of Schouwen-Duiveland, he is busy working on the final piece to enlarge his restaurant and, in doing so, he also hopes to contribute to putting Bruinisse even more on the map. Ideas to reinforce this move are bustling on the shelf. How about a Guiness book of records attempt for the longest mussel table? Or a Sea Food Festval, Bruzz in September? Or perhaps excursions for tourists? But Niels is also committed to the mussel guild. Not only because you achieve more together but also because it’s a lot cosier to do business together in one village.
Now that even people drive from far away to Bru17 for a nice piece of fish and the weekends are actually always fully booked, we can safely say that the restaurant is doing well and, as a result, Maria has been able to pick up her own profession as a teacher again. 6 days a week the restaurant is even open. From Tuesday to Sunday, you can make reservations. Of course, the menu only features fish that Willem and Leen might have caught. And if the children’s studies allow, it is now up to them to step in, says Niels, laughing. And who knows how the saltwater will get its grip on that 😉