Fast-paced Entrepreneurs

How Trek-Segafredo teammates Koen de Kort and Alex Kirsch are making bikes and coffee a way of life

It is not uncommon to see teammates Koen de Kort and Alex Kirsch reach the finish line together. In the most challenging mountain days, they often arrive in the same gruppetto (the Italian word is universally known in cycling to represent the group of domestiques, rouleurs, and sprinters that join forces to reach the end within the time limit) and in flatter races or the toughest classics, they battle in front, adeptly heading the sprint train for the team’s fastest finisher or positioning the team’s leader in the critical moment of a race.

Destiny also united Koen and Alex off the bike. Both Trek-Segafredo rouleurs decided to run their own business, and both chose a bike cafe. They were coincidently named Gruppetto Cafè – Kirsch’s, which opened in Luxembourg City in May, 2019 – and Grupetta  – de Kort’s, launched in La Massana, Andorra, a month later.

Alex Kirsch and Koen de Kort before the start of Tirreno-Adriatico Stage 1.

“It’s pure coincidence, both for the names and the business type,” Kirsch explains. “We wanted to mark the connection to cycling and Gruppetto sounded perfect, but it’s not only that. The sense of a gruppetto is also deeper; it’s about taking it easy and not getting overwhelmed by stress. For those who come in from the chaos of the city center, it’s like finding a bubble of calm to enjoy a break in a convivial and warm atmosphere.”

“In Spanish, grupeta is the group of riders who train together,” adds de Kort. “I chose it to evoke the concept that inspired me to open this place:  A cafe where you can start your bike ride or stop for a good coffee and a healthy lunch. I took out the license to add a T, making it ‘Grupetta’, to avoid that English people read it grupita: pronunciation it’s so important and is part of its charm.”

Happenchance aside, at the base of Alex’s and Koen’s choice is the same idea: investing in the present with a view of the future. Starting a business while still employed as a professional cyclist is something familiar to several riders. Although a career can be long, it doesn’t last forever.

“There are very few riders who, after their career, can afford to live without working. I think it’s normal having in mind questions about what to do next, how to manage or invest your earnings,” says de Kort who, in addition to Grupetta, is studying for a master’s degree in Sport Management after earning a bachelor’s degree in Human Movement Science a few years ago.

“Opening the cafe was one of my answers. It was a dream I had been thinking of for a long time. Like many cyclists, I love the ritual of the coffee break, especially when you ride with friends. Grupetta was created with this idea. Andorra lacked such a place, so I thought it was a good entrepreneurial intuition. I found the opportunity and I jumped.

“Together with my business partner and colleague Willie Smit (a South African who rides for Burgos-BH), we are trying to grow it by also being a key place for freelancers and professionals who are looking for a relaxed and catered space to work with their laptops or for private events. The pandemic isn’t helping us, but we’re hanging in there.”

Since I was in U23, I thought it was important to have ideas and, as soon as possible, projects.

“Being a pro rider is a full-time job. Nevertheless, I feel I can face my rider activity in a better way when my head knows there’s something ongoing for the post-career,” says Kirsch, who, in 2017, graduated from Business Administration with a specialization in Controlling and Marketing.

“Since I was in U23, I thought it was important to have ideas and, as soon as possible, projects. The idea of Gruppetto came almost by chance, thanks to a dear friend who has been a restaurant entrepreneur for years. I have always been fascinated by his work, especially on the entrepreneurial side, and after yet another chat about it, he took me to a place and explained his idea for a cycling cafe. I was impressed, and I decided to join the business. It’s an investment in something that obviously intrigues me, but above all, I consider it valid and profitable from an economic point of view in the medium to long term.”

Gruppetto Cafè, Luxembourg

But is it possible to be Batman and Bruce Wayne – professional cyclist and entrepreneur – at the same time?

“It’s not easy to combine because cycling requires a lot of energy, especially on a physical level. But at the same time it leaves you with a lot of free time that I try to invest in the best way I can,” explains Alex. “I don’t physically work in Gruppetto, but I try to give a contribution in terms of ideas in planning, as well as economically. Catering is a new world for me; I’m learning, and thanks to my travels around the world, I get in touch with new situations that can become new ideas. Obviously, without a capable and trusted business partner, it would be impossible.”

“I’ve never been the type of rider and person who likes to spend his free time on the couch watching TV,” admits Koen. “I like to keep my mind active, and Grupetta has helped me a lot in that. In the early phase, we had a manager; then I chose to get my hands dirty, to learn how to run the business myself. It’s very useful training for the future, as well as a key factor for an owner who wants to run the business smoothly and without problems. When I’m not at the races or training, I’m at the cafe. In short, Willie and I are the managers, obviously supported by a super team of employees who know what to do when we are both riding. My days are always full, but it’s what I want, what makes me feel good.”

Kirsch’s and de Kort’s businesses evoke a contemporary emergence: bike cafes in cities where bicycles, for many reasons, are returning as a way of life.

“We are bike lovers even before being pro riders,” Kirsch claims. “The idea of a cafe that is a welcoming refuge from the hustle and bustle of Luxembourg City coincides with the choice of gentle, harmonious bike mobility. We offer food, but also have combined a small workshop to serve urban cyclists, and new cycling ideas are in the pipeline.”

“Grupetta makes me proud; it’s something I wanted and made a reality. We have created a convivial place with, at its top, the bike. We increasingly want to become a reference point for cyclists and sports lovers in general. We already have several groups of riders that meet here and then leave. This is our essence.”

In short, bikes and coffee, like Trek and Segafredo, is a successful combination. When it comes to two wheels, Alex and Koen are professors, but how do they stack up as java connoisseurs?

“I think the best way to fully enjoy the aroma of a blend is by drinking an espresso, my favorite coffee. And while I might sound biased, I think ours is one of the best in Luxembourg City. Even if it’s not often to find me working at the bar making coffee, I’m sure I can make a decent espresso. With cappuccino and latte art, however, I am still learning,” admits Kirsch.

“I like a black coffee, with a little milk in the morning and always a double. I like strong coffee,” says de Kort. “Coffee is a magical world, full of charm,” he adds. “We are happy to have everyone come visit us and see!”