A taste of Moldova in Groningen

By Edward J Szekeres

Ever wondered what’s it like to run a business in Groningen? “Hard but rewarding,” says owner of Tucano Coffee.

When you come in, it feels like you stepped in the Amazon rainforest. Leafy plants, wooden statues and flamboyantly coloured paintings of wildlife greet the customers of Tucano Coffee, an ethno-styled café co-owned by Moldovan fiancés Diana Scorpan (19) and Sergiu Braga (30).

“Groningen is buzzing with business potential thanks to its vibrant and active student community. It just needed a place where likeminded people could come together,” Diana explains her business idea.

Elegantly dressed and radiating confidence, Diana proudly scans the half full coffee shop with her vivid eyes. It´s early afternoon and the warm light inside Tucano is a great lure for rain-soaked people out on the street. The sound of a coffee machine pouring fresh cappuccino in a patchwork cup, cuts through Diana´s words. “Trust me, this place is going to fill up in no time.”

Pioneers of the west

The city´s very own coffee jungle is just a few metres down the road from the Harmonie building on Oude Kijk in ‘t Jatstraat. But its origins trace all the way back to an inconspicuous country in the Balkans.

The Tucano brand was born in Moldova in 2011. Its founder and CEO, Ruslan Cojocaru, became fascinated by the indigenous Tucano culture while travelling around the tropical forests of South America.

The Tucanos are a native tribe from Brazil and Colombia. Emblems of their lifestyle take prime position in all 32 Tucano coffee shops dispersed around eight countries of the world, including Romania, Kyrgyzstan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Diana and Sergiu´s café, the first of the Tucano franchise in Western Europe, is no exception. Before opening their coffee shop in October last year, the ambitious couple embellished the commodious premises with wooden furniture and natural, wholesome décor. Wicker chairs surrounding walnut coloured patio tables, rest under the constant gaze of tribal figurines. The design became an instant hit with Groningen´s hip, eco-friendly student community.

“We have a very loyal customer base. Most of the people that come here are familiar faces,” says Diana.

She thinks this loyalty is sparked by the famed Moldovan hospitality that her business is trying to stay faithful to. Diana greets every incoming customer with a bright, warm smile. Waiters nonchalantly stroll around the cosy room as the sweet scent of steaming coffee and freshly baked cheesecakes slowly lingers behind their backs. The hum of casual conversation bounces off the tall walls.

“Everybody is welcome here. Dutch, international, young or old, all our customers are part of the Tucano family.”

Photo credit Tucano Coffee

Love, peace, coffee

Meri Cools (24), a journalism student, is one of the returning clients. “I really like the place. It´s very laid-back and easy-going, almost like a hipster hub. Oh, and their coffee is great!”

Diana´s coffee shop imports all its coffee beans from Moldova, where they are dried and processed. Despite the long journey, the freshness of the beans upon arrival is guaranteed. After all, Tucano Coffee has a reputation to uphold. “Our coffee recently scored 87 points out of 100 in the prestigious Coffee Review evaluation, which is the world´s leading coffee guide.”

On average, only a few hundred coffees score this high or above, from the thousands of cups of joe tasted every year.        

But serving good coffee is one thing. Distinguishing your café from the dozens, if not hundreds of others in the city, is another. “What makes us different from our competition is our intimate and very personal care for our customers. We don´t just serve them, but we gradually get to know them. We talk, laugh and sometimes even cry together,” describes Diana, revealing her coffee shop´s competitive edge.

Love, peace, coffee is the brand´s stamp and philosophy. But the symbolic motto is not just a lofty ideal. It shines through Tucano´s day-to-day operation.

“When you go to Starbucks, yes, you can get quite good coffee, but it´s very busy, loud and you don´t want to stay there too long. In Tucano, you get both the chill, comfy vibes and good coffee,” says Meri, the faithful customer.

“This doesn’t taste like Coca-Cola”

Still a teenager and a second-year student of international relations at the RUG, one would expect Diana to spend her days floundering with her studies in the library, only to fritter the evening away in the pub. Instead, she works in her café day-in, day-out, either as a bustling waitress or a composed manager. “I´m here at least eight hours a day. I do most of my studies in here as well. It´s practically a full-time job.”

Her duties mostly revolve around ensuring each clog in the Tucano machine fits perfectly and works according to plan. Only rarely does she have to defuse tense situations evoked by customer complaints. “A lady once complained about the Coke she ordered. She said it didn´t taste like Coca-Cola. I couldn´t help her much in that instance,” she says with a smirk. “But most customers are very friendly and excited about Tucano´s exotic look.” 

While Diana´s entrepreneurship has taken its toll on her studies, she remains defiant in the face of a momentous challenge. “I failed some of my courses, but I just keep going. Doing business is much bigger than just studying. I know it will be worth it in the end.”

Photo credit Tucano Coffee

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