Founded in 1933, Ús Bertus is one of the finest bakeries in Leiden, offering a wide variety of artisanal breads as well as pastries, coffee drinks and sandwiches. If you buy your bread at the Ús Bertus shop on Doezastraat, you might meet Wieke Peeman, a saleswoman whose friendly smile and personality will brighten your day. Wieke, 30, lives in Leiden and is thinking about opening her own shop some day.   

When she started at Ús Bertus, Wieke was still studying at Leiden University. “I’ve been at Ús Bertus for about one and a half years … I started working only on Saturdays because I was still studying then … after about four or five months I started working three days per week. And then six months later I started working four to five days … because we have a small team, I work six days sometimes.”

How she found this job: “My neighbor knew I was looking for a Saturday job … and he saw that Ús Bertus needed somebody … I already bought my bread there … I think it’s very important that I work somewhere where I can support the product I sell … so I went there and I told them I was interested in the job and I got it.”

Most of the products sold at the Doezastraat shop are baked at Ús Bertus’ Groenhazengracht location. “We do sell some cookies that we make ourselves [at the Doezastraat shop] … but what’s made at Doezastraat is a very small portion of the stuff we sell.” Ús Bertus was founded by a baker of Frisian origin, and still features some Frisian specialties. The name Wieke “is also Frisian. But that’s the only Frisian thing I have. (laughs) … I grew up in Oegstgeest.”

Wieke studied psychology at Leiden University. “I don’t have my master’s, but I do have my bachelor [degree] … When I was studying I wasn’t very happy because I’m kind of a perfectionist … for example, when I had my test periods I would start studying about three weeks beforehand, and I was only focused on that and not on my social life.” She felt too consumed by her studies. “It was hard for me to find the balance … until I’m sure that’s possible for me to do, I will not do my master’s.”

“It’s been kind of a process … when I started studying I had [a plan]: ‘I’m going to do my bachelor’s and then my masters then some extra education and then I’ll work as a psychologist’ … it was quite difficult to let go of that idea. But I’ve learned a lot from it. Because now I really feel that the most important thing is that you do what makes you happy. It sounds like a cliché … but I don’t think doing my masters will make me happy and … also I’m not sure that working as a psychologist will make me happy.”

“I really like talking to people and getting to know them and their story. But talking about difficult stuff every day … I’m not sure I can really let go of the stories when I get home … I think it’s better for me to have work that’s a bit lighter … not so heavy.”

The most satisfying aspect of her job is “the contact with customers. I really love that … there are many regular customers, and that’s so nice about working a bakery. Some people come every day. Most people come at least once a week, so you really get to know people … it gives me satisfaction to give people the feeling that they’re seen. I recognize them and I ask them about something they’ve done … people feel part of a community.”

Working with customers all day can be challenging at times. “When I started working there … I wasn’t that irritated by people when they were kind of arrogant. But I think because I’ve worked there so much, some people tend to get on my nerves. (laughs) … Because some people are just a bit rude … you can see it as a challenge, but it irritates me.” (laughs)

Over the years, Wieke has worked as a salesperson at several other retail businesses in the Leiden area. “I’ve worked with some companies that are family-owned and I really like that ... I worked at a goat farm [Boerderij ‘t Geertje] in Zoeterwoude … they make cheese, but they also have a lot of people coming by to feed the goats … I worked at the cheese store there … I really liked it because it’s family-owned which gives it a special ambiance … I also worked at Oudshoorn on the Haarlemmerstraat … it’s a kitchen and baking products place … they sell beautiful pots and pans, but also cutlery and plates … and that’s also family-owned … that’s the place that I’ve worked the longest … and I also worked some summers at an [assisted living home for elderly people] … I really like elderly people.”

“Doezastraat is a great place to work” … the relationship between the various shops is “very friendly … because we sell different products … it’s just an ambiance on the whole street. We help each other. We buy our bacon at the butcher shop [across the street] that we use for the BLTs … we buy our lettuce and tomatoes and cucumbers at Meneer Peters [a green grocer next door to Ús Bertus] … I really love working on that street.”

What does the future have in store?: “Right now I feel like the psychology line of work isn’t going to work for me … the idea of working as a psychologist gives me … kind of anxiety … I think having work that you enjoy is [more important] … I tend to draw a lot of responsibility to myself … and I almost never think that something I’ve done is good enough.”

“I put the bar very high. And when you have a job that’s a bit simpler, it’s easier to cope with that … I don’t want to make choices based on that … but it is something that I have to deal with. So I think about that when I think about which job I would like to have. I think that’s part of my personality.” 

“I’m actually thinking about opening a shop of my own. Maybe a coffee bar … what I think is important is it’s somewhere that people come regularly … because I think that is my strength … I don’t have concrete plans, but I think that would make me very happy, just owning my own place and seeing people on a regular basis.”

“Of course, I think there are some downsides to having your own shop. I realize that. But I think it would be a great fit for my personality.”

Could she commit to staying in one space for many years?: “That’s why I think location is very important. Because if [the shop is] in a place like the Doezastraat that would be very nice … for me its important to feel like you … have a connection with the shops around you. If I was there on my own I don’t think it would be nice … in terms of maybe not being able to move abroad or something I don’t really see that as a problem … I don’t see myself having the shop and being there for the next 30 years … I don’t feel like once I made that choice I would always be committed to stay there.”

“I don’t really care about money. But, for example, I would love to get my motorcycle license. If I were to pursue this, I would have to stop eating out or spending as much money on clothes … of course I know those are not real problems. But sometimes that’s why I think it would be nice to earn a little more money … and if I did work that’s at the level I studied, I would of course earn more money … I don’t think that should be a reason to change, but sometimes that’s a little bit frustrating … especially because most of my friends also went to university, and they now have jobs that are related to their study, and they earn more and are able to go on holidays more often or buy a car ... so that’s something that sometimes is a downside to working at a bakery.”

Wieke enjoys learning languages. She speaks excellent English, and plans to take a French course “because I love French, and I would love to be able to speak it fluently, or at least better than I do now … and I know that’s not such a big trigger for me as for example doing a master’s. But it’s something I would enjoy, and it stimulates my brain a bit more.”

“I’ve always asked so much of myself that right now I’d like to lean back a little … I used to read a lot more … but now it’s a bit less because I just want to let go of that a little bit for now. But I know that in a year or so I’ll be doing that a lot more … I will know when the time is right … and it will be because I want it, not because I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

Bakkerij Ús Bertus has locations at Groenhazengracht 10 and Doezastraat 14 in Leiden. Information is available athttp://usbertus.nl