17/01/2022

Fika Swedish Kitchen On Snaps, Scandinavia And Why Life Should Be Filled With Meatballs

Editorial Team | Interviews

Three Swedish ex-pats have brought the spirit of Scandinavia Down Under with a unique café concept that’s planting little blue and yellow flags across the country.

There is a common belief that it’s a bad idea to start a business with your friends. Competition, distraction, blurred professional boundaries and the potential to harm personal relationships are often cited as core reasons to never go all into business with your pals. But ask the three owner-friends of Fika Swedish Kitchen, and they’ll say that setting up shop together is the best decision they’ve ever made.

Fellow Swedes Sophie Curl, Diana Chirilas and Linda Stanes met in Sydney’s Manly enclave while backpacking in their twenties. Although they enjoyed their sun-drenched beachside idyl, they each missed certain aspects of their Swedish culture: the coffees, the meatballs, the sweets, the pickled condiments, and the snaps songs, being just a few of them.

“Swedes celebrate traditions on specific days eating a specific food,” explains Stanes, who says she used to throw her own crayfish Christmas and mid-summer parties for her Swedish and Australian friends in those early years. These events became a kind of early proof of concept for what would become Fika, a brand that started out as a simple place for Swedes to gather and is now something much more.

Opening in 2013 on a Manly backstreet a mere hundred or so yards from where the friends had lived, Fika is a bakery, restaurant, and store, selling Swedish inspired goods and sundries including home-made cinnamon buns, Kavring bread, Skagen, gravlax, relishes, cakes, cookies and jams. Shelves are lined with colourful trinkets, stylised posters and pickled items creating an all-around festive-looking backdrop for its café setting.

The café menu features both Swedish and Australian dishes although everything skews Scandinavian. Items like Kalles Kaviar are fundamentally Swedish, consisting of fish roe paste and smashed egg piled on crispbread. But even the quintessential avocado on toast gets a twist, with the addition of strawberries and Kavring rye bread.

“When we opened, we thought we were going to sell coffee and cinnamon buns to lots of Swedes,” says Chirilas. “In the first couple of weeks, we realised lots of Aussies come in curious about the Swedish stuff.”

“Be ready for curveballs,
constant curveballs.”

Fika quickly grew as customers were drawn to the inviting atmosphere, freshly made goods and the quirky point of view which marked it out against the jumble of other local cafés and coffee shops. Stanes says that their product range began to expand quickly, swapping many of the imported Swedish goods on their store shelves for their very own.

With 15 of their own products for sale alongside imported Swedish goods and sundries Chirilas, who has a background in design, says growing the brand identity has felt organic. Coffee’s get a Dala horse dusting, cups, bags, and packaging all tout their signature yellow motif. It’s this attention to detail that has helped the Fika brand to open stores in Bondi Beach and another in Perth.

Chirilas says that their approach to work and their personal life has had to evolve over the years. “We definitely developed a system where when we work, we work and that’s our work relationship and when we’re not working, we’re very much just three friends who hang out and go to the beach… We really believe in, you know, clocking out at the end of the day and for our staff to go home and not to worry about tomorrow.”

“Starting a business is a lot harder
than what you can ever imagine.”

The pandemic forced the Fika team to think quickly on their feet and although staffing and restrictions continue to be troublesome, Curl says it has encouraged them to develop areas that they may not have approached so vigorously. “We had to really develop our online presence,” she says, “…working on our website, our takeaway options, starting to work together with different delivery apps. We also worked on our online menu.” Consumer behaviours have changed too. “Even the older generation is fine ordering online. They’re used to QR codes now.” She says that although challenging, acknowledging these changes and tweaking their offering and services has enabled them to better communicate with staff and customers.

As three female business owners, the team agrees that they have seen a shift in their nine years of business, something Chirilas cites as a big change. “When we first started out, we had a lot of men looking at us when we were calling up to order different products or calling different companies to set up accounts. They were like ‘who are you?’ And it was kind of a little bit difficult to get respect or to get people’s attention in the beginning, but I haven’t felt that feeling for a few years now. We’re just people, and that’s been a really nice change to see from that perspective.”

When it comes to leanings, the Fika team aren’t short on those either. “Starting a business is a lot harder than what you can ever imagine,” says Stanes. “Be ready for curveballs,” adds Chirilas, “…constant curveballs. That’s kind of the job of being a business owner. Everything just keeps changing and updating and you have to be ready.”

But when it comes the crunch, the Fika team offer three words of encouragement to budding hospitality owners – be they friends or not. “Just do it,” says Curl. “As much as it can be very hard, “it’s really cool to see when you’re thinking about an idea and then all of a sudden, you’re watching someone eating or buying that idea.”

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