If you’re in the mood for a casual neighborhood eatery featuring friendly service and lekker pasta, pizza and panini, then Trattoria Panini on Doezastraat is an excellent choice. Whenever you go, the chances are good that you’ll meet general manager Guillaume Thissen. Depending on how busy the place is, he might even make your pizza. Just 26 years old, Guillaume has risen to his management role through hard work, strong people skills and, apparently, a whole lot of coffee.

Long hours: Guillaume’s schedule at Panini “has been 12:00 until the restaurant closes at 10:00 or 11:00. Now I’m changing it to opening the restaurant at 10:00. My plan is to leave [at night] when the biggest part of the work is done. So that means I will not close at the end… Let’s say on the quiet days [I’ll leave] around 8 o’clock, 8:30. And maybe if it’s a bit more busy, to just finish the last dishes of the last table, [around] 9:00 or 9:15 … I won’t [stay to] close the door … Just make sure the restaurant is left behind in a normal clean way for the next day.”

“We have to come here to prepare the bread for lunch... I am coming a bit before 10 o’clock. I open the door, then I start everything. So that means I put on the lights, turn on the oven, take the dough out, make sure everything is working. Put on the lights of the fridge, check to make sure everything is clean.” 

“I try to work five days [per week]. Sometimes six days, sometimes seven days when the owner is on holiday or when one of the cooks is away in Italy for a family reunion … It’s hard work. It’s not easy. Some things cost a lot of energy, and a lot of time.”

How would you describe Panini?: “The owner [Mr. Meir Ozanna] started in 1984 with a takeaway shop in Rotterdam, only selling Italian sandwiches, the panini. It was one of the first in Holland selling hot Italian ciabattas … It’s like an Italian dish in a bread. I think it’s the power of the concept.”

“A trattoria means lunch and a bit more. So small pasta dishes, pizza slices … It’s not a typical restaurant because we don’t serve meat or fish dishes, so that’s the big difference. We don’t serve a meal of five courses … It’s just a simple concept based on good quality and low pricing.”

Guillaume has been working for 10 years with the Panini group. “I was living in a small place next to Lisse … The son of the owner was a friend of my brother. And I knew that he had a restaurant [in Lisse]. And a lot of people from 16 or 17 years old they start working there as a pizza driver. So you start on a scooter. That’s how I started. It’s divided into cooks, girls that work in service and the guys in the back. The guys in back deliver pizza, and you also do the dishes and do some mise-en-place for the kitchen. You have to cut all the vegetables, the cheeses, the meat. It’s a very nice system because everyone in the business is always working … There’s always something to do.”

Guillaume didn’t plan to become a restauranteur, but he found the business was a good fit: “I fell into it. And I liked it. I like people. So when you start working you’re interested in people. And also I was interested in the business. To see what happens, and why, and how to change. How to make it better, what are the dangers. What is the power of the business. When I stepped in, it was already working. But why and how? And how can you make it better? And I always try my best. That’s why I moved after one year from delivery guy to assistant cook. And then trying to make pizza by myself. Learning how to make the pasta, pizza, the salads.”

Guillaume was trained by the owner and one of the Italian chefs. “There was an Italian guy working there in the kitchen who taught me some things about the easy Italian kitchen. So not the big fish and meat and things. But pizza, pasta, salad, panini, what kind of ingredients you can mix in a dish and what you cannot. What is the power of the Italian kitchen. Simplicity, purity, fresh products.”

Opportunities came his way: “After one year I started working in the kitchen. And it was very nice. Because then you’re really into a restaurant, working with people, very nice people, and also serving people who are coming to have a nice time. So it’s not so business-like, it’s casual. Especially with this kind of concept, it’s not so tight. So you can speak with anyone who’s coming in. Everyone is coming in for a chat, not only to eat. It’s like a social experiment.”

“After a couple of years, I was assistant manager.” When the Rotterdam business ran into some problems and the owner was busy with other business activities “he needed somebody that he could trust, to [manage the restaurant]  in Rotterdam for him. And so he asked me if [I was interested] … And by that time I had stopped college. I was in law school. But studying is not my thing … I don’t like to sit down for hours at a desk, I have too much energy … So I started working in Rotterdam … And we had to build up a new team in Rotterdam.”

Learning the Italian language: “The owner likes to work with Italian people because he’s serving Italian food. Especially in big cities it brings something extra. But Italian people who just came from Italy don’t speak English and also no Dutch … It’s very important to communicate with people, especially to train new people … But for Italian people it’s very hard to learn English or Dutch in a fast way … so because I speak French, my mother is French, it’s easier for me to learn Italian than for Italians to learn English.”

“So it’s was like coming automatically to get the language … because you’re working with two Italian people that are constantly talking with each other and you’re just standing there not involved in the situation. After a while you’re just sick of it, you want to know what they’re talking about … that’s how it started. Asking and trying, asking and trying.”

Guillaume helped Mr. Ozanna open the Panini location on Doezastraat in August 2016. “For him it was also nice to have me back. To help him with the new modern age of [running a restaurant] business. Because it’s not the same as when he started back in 1984 … It’s computerized, there’s a lot of new laws and taxes, everything is by email. And he’s more from the old school.”

What’s most enjoyable about this work?: “Every day is different. All the customers that come in are different. And that means that every day you meet new people. Not like you’re making new friends every day, but it’s nice to see all different kinds of people from all different parts of the world … And the interesting thing is that everyone is demanding another kind of service. Some people want to be served like a friend. An 80-year-old couple wants to be served with more respect and more distance. And young people want to have a nice time and they don’t want to feel like coming to a restaurant and have to act well and eat with a fork and knife. They just want to have a nice time, have nice food and talk like a friend … And that’s the interesting part. How should you serve, how can you make your service fit in with the people that come in.”

The long hours are “OK for now. The biggest challenge for now is to make this business a success … For now we will start with a delivery system. And after that I want to open other businesses. And maybe not all restaurants. But also takeaway shops in bigger cities … the important thing is what’s the challenge and what do you want to do in life. I just want to grow with this concept.”

Balancing work with life: “This kind of work takes a lot of time. For now the balance is 90 percent work and 10 percent private life. There’s one thing that I’m still doing and that’s playing soccer. That’s the only thing that I just told myself to keep on doing, you cannot stop everything from your private life for work.”

“Now I’m 26 and for me it’s no problem to work from morning to night. But there will be one day when you have to think about the rest of your life. Wife, girlfriend, children. The challenge for the next 10 years is to make sure that you can have the same challenge going on and working [different] hours. Because if you want to have children, and I want to have children, not tomorrow but in 10 years for sure, it’s not possible to have children and leave the house at 10 in the morning and come home at 11 in the evening. It cannot happen. So that means that in the next 10 years I have to build up something that makes it possible to have the job running and also to have more time to build up a private life.”


Open seven days a week, Trattoria Panini is located at Doezastraat 41 in Leiden. For more information, you can visit