Bernard Simoen - Babelou

In Westende, the Babelou go-carts have been adding colour to the promenade for close on 40 years. Bernard Simoen set up the company and is about to pass the torch on to his son Hans. ‘It’s not a farewell; I want to keep helping my son as long as I can.’

In 1983 we started on a tiny scale, tiny being the operative word.

We set up shop in the basement of a building on the promenade and got down to work.

In those days, premises on the ground floor were as scarce as hen’s teeth. We started from scratch and had to source all the carts ourselves. Some we bought new, some we took over from other hirers and some more we made ourselves. Initially, there was quite a bit of fumbling involved, but as time went on, we got on top of the game. And that’s how we ended up with some forty carts and were finally able to open our doors.

Over the years, our initial stock has grown substantially. In the early days, it was mainly my wife who ran the shop because I still had another job back then and repaired the carts after hours. After a while we decided it was time to chuck in the day job so that I could fully focus on the go-carts. We christened our business Zeemeeuw (Seagull). In those days it was customary for Dutch-speakers to pick a Dutch name; in turn, French-speaking colleagues would pick a French name. We have been trading under the name Babelou for a good few years now. It’s an invented name that works in both languages.

We focus on families and small children. Children on a school trip love nothing more than a spin in a go-cart. The largest group of children we ever supplied with go-carts was 120. I don’t need to tell you that the congestion on the promenade was unbelievable. Since then, we’ve been splitting up large groups. That way, we maintain order and every child gets the opportunity to ride the go-cart of its choice. We have three sons and my middle son, Hans, was soon itching to follow in my footsteps. He has been working with me for 15 years now and I’ll be passing the torch on to him soon.

I am retiring on 1 April, after 37 years of go-carts.

But I am by no means bidding the business adieu. I want to keep helping my son for as long as I can. I love the job. Every year, I am counting down the days until the beach cabins reappear, the sun shines high in the sky again and tourists descend on the Belgian Coast in their droves once more.

There’s nothing nicer than being able to go around in shorts and T-shirt and making people happ

Also with my part-timers I have an excellent relationship. At the start, you kinda need to test the waters and get to know one another but, after a while, I think of them as my own children. Many of them stay around for years. During the summer we start the day at about half past 8 with a few cups of coffee and finish up at about ten o’clock at night with a beer or packet of French fries.

At the end of the season, I always organise a small party and we start fantasising about the next season and the carts we want to order. I do my best to keep things interesting and to prevent work becoming a grind. In October we go away for a week and after that we start repairing our go-carts. That’s the way I have been doing it for 37 years. As I said, it’ll be my son’s turn soon. I hope he’ll enjoy running the business until his time to retire comes. I’ll be happy to assist him for as long as I can.

Babelou - Koning Ridderdijk 29, 8434 Westende, +32 (0)474/ 20 06 88, +32 (0)474/ 38 42 69

Due to the corona crisis, opening hours and timetables may vary. If in doubt, it is best to contact the entrepreneur himself.
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