Beneath the surface

Patrick Goossens: ‘Artisanal is not a luxury’

5 min
Text Alexander Delport
Image Alexander Delport

In 'Beneath the surface', we deep dive into the mind of a UAntwerp researcher. Stroom digs for experiences, interests and motivations, in order to discover: what makes a scientist tick? This time, we put Patrick Goossens in the spotlight. Goossens is the owner of the famous Goossens Bakery in the centre of Antwerp, and working to get his doctorate degree in history.



Printing presses

Typography is the art of designing, setting and printing text. What really makes my heart beat faster is the technology behind the printing process. The method you use determines what the final result will look like. With older printing presses, the style of the printed materials was governed by the limitations of the device. That thought fascinates me. I myself have a collection of printing presses from the 19th century in a warehouse. The current total is 150. Many of those devices are made entirely of cast iron and weigh up to 800 kilograms. Every single one represents a little bit of history. I don’t want to keep that knowledge to myself, but share it with the world. I regularly open the doors of my warehouse to visitors. These include researchers and experts who want to study the historical technology, academics enrolled in summer school, and those who simply love the art of printing. Over the years I’ve welcomed people from the United States, China, Russia and India. Printing press technology is an eternal fascination for me. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that I’m currently writing a PhD thesis on the subject. My supervisors are Hilde Greefs, Pierre Delsaerdt (UAntwerp) and David McKitterick (University of Cambridge (UK)), a great group of people who will undoubtedly help me to successfully complete my thesis. 


A long time ago, in 1884 to be exact, by great-grandfather opened up a bakery on Korte Gasthuisstraat in Antwerpen. Many years later – in spite of word wars, stock market crashes and a pandemic – Bakkerij Goossens is still there. It’s a family-run business that’s been kept small on purpose. The traditional craft of baking bread still comes first. This doesn’t mean we’re opposed to innovation. My great-grandfather was one of the first in the country to use al electric dough kneader. But as a bakery our focus – then and now – is on the craft. For me, a craftsman works with his hands, always in control of the making process. Strictly spoken, the production lines in modern factories also qualify as such, but everything is pre-programmed there. Rapid and large-scale production has never been our goal; we want to bake good, tasty bread. The taste is really brought out when all ingredients are processed slowly. I think it’s a pity the concept of ‘artisanal food’ has been hijacked by marketeers. Artisanally baked bread is presented as a luxury, as food prepared by someone with ‘the magic touch’ that can therefore be sold at exorbitant prices. For me, that idea goes against the very essence of bread. It’s a product for everyone. A simple recipe based on water, flour, yeast and salt. That’s all you need. 

Voluntary work 

It may sound weird coming from an entrepreneur, but the idea of infinite growth has never appealed to me. I’ve always aspired to having enough. To have the luxury of spending time on your hobbies or on research next to your job, this for me is the true definition of wealth. Now that my retirement is approaching, I would like to expand my voluntary work. I’ve been given many things in my life, so I almost feel like it’s my moral duty to share my knowledge and skills with other people. I’m involved in quite some organisations as a volunteer. I chair the board of an association of friends of the Museum Plantin-Moretus. I’m also an active member of a European organisation that promotes printing museums. In the grand scheme of things my efforts may not amount to very much, but it’s my personal way of contributing to society. 



The bakery has always been owned by the Goossens family. The fact that it has remained small has allowed the business to be passed down from generation to generation. My father, grandfather and great-grandfather put their heart and soul into the bakery. For them it was a given they would work in the family business, but for me that was a slightly different matter. My parents gave me the opportunity to go to university and to choose my own path in life. I studied history at the University of Antwerp and at KU Leuven, but later on I started to work at the bakery of my own volition. Now I’m 63 years old. My niece Laura is almost ready to take over from me. I have every faith in her. Blood runs thicker than water. It’s interesting to see how the younger generation looks at things. I recognise my niece’s optimistic outlook. My view on life was the same when I was young, even though times were completely different back then. Turns out history repeats itself, but never in exactly the same way. 
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In life you can give in, give way or give away, but never give up.

Patrick Goossens


My personal adage? Keep pursuing what you believe in. In life, there are sure to be obstacles on your path, but you can never throw in the towel. That drive defines me as a person. Every morning I start the day with energy and gusto. Which reminds me of a nice childhood memory. When I was young, our bakery also made home deliveries. As a child, I would join my dad on his delivery round. Our clients included the Capuchin monastery on Sint-Rochusstraat. Sister Rosa, one of the nuns that lived there, always told me: ‘In life you can give in, give way or give away, but never give up.’ The nuns have long since left that monastery. These days, the building houses the Institute of Tropical Medicine. But I regularly think back to the great advice Sister Rosa gave me. If I start something, I’ll finish it. I also plan to successfully complete my PhD thesis. In fact, in my head it’s already finished. It just needs to be written. (laughs) 

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