In 2006 on a Tuesday afternoon in September at 1 pm, entrepreneur and coffee lover Lars Åkerlund opened the doors to his baby, a Swedish coffee collective that he called “FIKA” on Central Park South. He says that he can remember the day and time vividly because of an ATM statement that told him that he (and the business) had only $247 dollars left after the initial costs of opening. Åkerlund took a deep breath and ordered $240 worth of milk. The rest is history.
13 years later, the shop currently has 7 locations across Manhattan.
And while offering coffee and pastries to the New York masses was a goal of Åkerlund’s, he really wanted to “be a Swedish window to the U.S. market...what we have [in Sweden] is unique, it’s a social institution.” He wanted a place where New Yorkers could take a minute to calm down and enjoy the “fika” culture, which can be defined as a state of mind or attitude of relaxation and communal enjoyment.
It’s not hard to see why people began to flock to the initial location. After all, the blonde wood tables, soft lighting, Scandinavian simplicity and host of delicious offerings, such as spiced buns and strong coffee were all draws. Who doesn’t think that hand-made sweets and fine roasted coffee sounds delicious?
But it was the soft and cozy atmosphere and welcoming community that kept people coming back, as did the term “fika,” which customers started to adopt in casual conversation, a fact that tickled Åkerlund.
In addition to the cozy comfort associated with “fika,” Åkerlund explains that Swedes love their locally sourced products and works to ensure that everything served at FIKA is from goods made within the community and from scratch. They take this commitment seriously — an example: their most “Swedish” offering is Lingonberry truffles, which they make approximately 15,000 of a dayby hand. As if that wasn’t enough to show FIKA’s commitment to their returning patrons, the company has repeatedly stated that “whether you are stopping by for your daily breakfast, sitting down for a business lunch, or treating yourself to an afternoon pastry and caffeine kick — we are committed to making it one of the best moments of your day.”
Åkerlund credits America’s emphasis on local businesses as part of his success, saying “you can go into communities and say I want to do this, and if it makes sense to them, you can do it! It’s hard work, but it’s easier than people think it is.”
This perennial optimism has ensured FIKA’s long standing reputation in the city and its commitment to growing alongside the Big Apple, alongside other Scandinavian newcomers. As Åkerlund points out, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”