After struggling to get their business going in the recession, Jonas and Bronte Aurrell, the owners of ScandiKitchen, have since capitalised on the UK’s obsession with Nordic noir to establish their London-based cafe. Their aim to bring simple Scandi food to British tables is now well underway, with the publication of their first book coming up this autumn.
We sat down with them to gain a better insight into how the company survived the downturn and where it will be in five years time.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
ScandiKitchen is a café, deli and wholesale business set up in 2007. Being Scandinavians living in the UK, we were missing food from home and back then – nobody was importing the stuff we wanted to eat. So we decided to do it ourselves. Our webshop now serves the whole of the UK with 800 Scandinavian food products and we supply everybody from individuals to big restaurants and supermarkets.
(2) How long have you been around for?
We opened our doors 10 July 2007 – and had our first child the same day. It wasn’t quite planned that these two events were to happen the same time, but we managed!
Both of us had great jobs before (I worked for the BBC while Bronte worked for Innocent drinks), but we wanted to create something together and wanted to help Scandinavian food gain popularity in the UK.
(3) How do you make money?
The beginning wasn’t easy. A month after we opened, the recession hit. When you risk everything you have to open a café in London, you really suffer during times like those. We worked hard on ensuring we stocked the stuff people wanted to buy, that the café was a place where everybody feels welcome. After a rocky start, we learnt some important lessons and began – eventually – to make a small profit. It wasn’t a quick journey.
(4) What makes you different and why should someone take notice?
We have always said we are here to deliver good food with love from Scandinavia. We’re genuine about what we want to do – and this comes from a real love of the food from our home countries. We want to make sure that everybody who pops by the café or orders online has a nice experience of Scandinavia. We really are about the food Scandinavians eat at home – not an inflated, fancy version of it. Scandinavians are simple people and we eat simple food. But our food is good and wholesome and worth trying.
(5) What was key in terms of getting started?
The key terms of getting started were firstly to make a business plan that was solid enough to function practically. We worked on this for six months. We did everything from count footfall to read studies about sandwich shops.
Then it was to get the cash together to set up. We’re an independent business – we spent our own cash and pretty much every penny we could get hold off from friends and family – on setting up a café with no inventors. In hindsight, it would have been a lot easier to get investment from the outside.
To be honest, once we opened, we didn’t have much time to do much thinking. We just worked. Once we re-surfaced, the first thing we did was to sit down and re-plan everything again.
(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?
Surviving the first year. Two-thirds of new cafés fold inside the first year – and another third of these inside the next year.
Aside from getting through it – our biggest achievement is creating work places for 25 people. Creating jobs in the UK market is something we, as immigrants, are proud of. We contribute to the economy in a real way and we are very happy to be a successful, working business in the UK today.
From a more personal point of view, being a good employer is important. Taking care of the people who work for us and creating a nice place to work. Helping our people feel motivated, appreciated and developed in the time they choose to spend with us.
(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?
Aside from hitting a major recession in year one? That was the biggest one and the hardest.
We’ve probably had every kind of set back you can imagine. Our staffing tends to work in cycles – because in a café, the people tend to be transient in London for a year or two, so at times, we have had to face having a very new team and lose great people who have moved onto other fields of work. We’ve faced times when we hadn’t kept an eye on the cash flow as much as we should have and had to lay awake at night, worrying. We’ve had suppliers forgetting to put our orders on the truck – not a small issue if your supplier is in the north of Sweden and the next delivery isn’t for another two weeks. But on the positive side, you learn from all set backs and you surf those waves instead of trying to stop them.
Every set back means a new procedure is written and we agree on a plan on how to cope so we don’t have to pull our hair out next time it happens.
(8) In five years time, we will be…
Still loving what we do. Getting up every day is happy and fun – we truly enjoy our work and business. We work with some wonderful people both at the café, the warehouse and of course also our suppliers and amazing customers.
We do have big plans to expand the wholesale operation more and focus on our own products. Oh, and our first book is out in October – maybe this will open some other doors, too.
We do review our bigger picture plans every year – and to be honest, these change according to trends. I think it’s important to follow trends, too. For example, when Nordic noir film and TV exploded a few years ago in Britain, we did feel in it in the café and web shop too – suddenly, people wanted the beers that Sarah Lund drinks in The Killing, they wanted to eat more Scandi food in general and we did get busier. To be honest, we’re all about getting Scandi food onto the tables of the British people, so we’re very happy when things like this happen – it being through fashion, film, TV or music.
(9) What one tip would you give to those starting out?
We have three that we give out. Pick any of these:
- Do your research and business plan. If the numbers do not make sense on paper, they are unlikely to make sense in the real world
- Always keep the main thing the main thing – don’t try to do too many things or you will lose sight of what it is you were supposed to be doing
- Cash flow is more important than you think. Always factor in a buffer – you will need it
Lastly, if you are not a finance head, hire a finance person the minute you can afford it. We don’t mean an accountant, but a person who can help you make sense of it all and set your budgets with you. Someone who actually cares.
(10) Who are your business heroes and why?
Bronte worked closely with Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright from Innocent drinks for five years – from when innocent was in its startup phase. If you ask her, these guys are her favourites. To have them as mentors, bosses and friends was pretty special.
We also both really love Michael E Gerber who wrote the simplest business book ever, called The E-Myth Revisited – a book that we read again every time we forget to keep the main thing the main thing. When you are down in the dumps about how things are going, you don’t want to read something heavy – you just want someone to tell you all the answers. This book does that.
Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.