They moved to Härnösand, in northern Sweden, where Johanna grew up. A fairly small, serene town of just above 17,000 residents, it’s often referred to as “the gate to the High Coast”, the stunning Unesco heritage site which stretches along the coast just north of the town.
It’s a long way off from Corby's old city life in Northampton, where his job selling energy efficient glass to larger buildings kept him busy and meant he travelled often.
“I was travelling from to Scotland, Ireland, Poland and wherever else business took me. Johanna would go to Härnösand to see her family while I was away, because there was no point in her being alone. The struggles of trying to balance a city life, family life and travelling for work made the decision for us to move,” he tells The Local.
Opening a café had been on the back of their minds since a walk during a holiday eight or nine years ago, in Bournemouth, a coastal town in southern Britain. “We were walking along and said, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to live by the sea and open a café?’”
With the move to Härnösand this opportunity arose and they went for it. Café Skeppsbron was born.
The concept of the café revolves around ‘fresh feel-good food with an international twist’ and the target is to make everything in-house and use organic produce. “Where possible we use ecological ingredients, we process our meats to make sausages and the sauces and marinades are all made in-house. We don’t use anything frozen. We try to make sure everything is locally sourced, although some ingredients we have to get from the major chains.”
As much of the ingredients as possible is organic and locally sourced. Photo: Café Skeppsbron
They have vegetarian options as well, and have just started branching out to include vegan meals too. “We also have pancakes, which have a vegan option as well which are made out of bananas.”
Corby points out that the brunch concept is very different in Sweden to the UK. “We found a gap in the market where not many places are open on a Sunday. And what they’re doing is pretty much the extended fika. We’re filling that gap with full meals.”
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With the cold months not far off, Corby has a plan to help his customers stay warm and cozy by drawing inspiration from his own background. “My family is from Ireland, though I was raised in England. Irish soups and stews will definitely be a feature. And other foreign dishes that are not readily available in Härnösand.”
While Corby cooks the main dishes, his wife is the baker, and she’s creative. She makes the cakes the night before or the day they are sold. “A favourite is her nut-free rocky road or her ‘any-time’ brownie. It’s made with sweet potatoes and black beans but no refined sugar. It can be eaten anytime, which is why we called it that. It’s going down really well. It’s part of our plan to introduce gluten free foods.”
Although Corby wouldn’t describe it as an ‘eco-café’, Café Skeppsbron’s concept means they’re aware of the environment. They pay a little more to have to get recycled napkins and they use eco-friendly washing-up powder to wash the dishes. They’re always looking for other ways to be environmentally friendly.
Vegan-friendly cake. Photo: Café Skeppsbron
The business is very new, but interest from the locals seems to be high. “Word of mouth has been key for us. I see a lot people driving past and slowing down just to look.”
Home seems to be where the heart is, and the Corby family’s heart is in Härnösand. “I prefer Sweden to England. I really didn’t think I would. But obviously I’ve got young kids as well. The idea to come here was mostly because we wanted to spend more time together as a family, and our lifestyle in Northampton didn’t allow that. We’re managing the work-life balance better here.”
That didn’t mean adjusting to life in the town was complete smooth sailing. Moving from a city and a life full of constant travel for work meant adjusting to the quiet life Härnösand offered took some getting used to.
“It is a quieter life here. Northampton is very busy, and I was travelling to London a lot as well. I was always in some kind of hustle and bustle. And it was a shock for me. I was close to shedding tears when I first came. I was thinking what do I do?” says Corby.
All the baking is done the night before or the day of. Photo: Café Skeppsbron
But he found he wasn’t the only one having to learn the new way of life, other expats were also in the area, and this helped him adjust. “I was out with a guy from Tanzania, a guy from Scotland, I’ve got a friend from Ireland. People are always coming in saying ‘I used to live in England’ or ‘Oh I’m from London’ so we have found a little community. We recognize each other in the supermarket and what not. So that sort of has helped me settle.”
Although Corby seems a little wistful about the anonymity city life offered, he seems to enjoy getting to know the people. “I can’t say I prefer city life to here. You've got to get on with it wherever you are. Life is what you make it. It’s a learning curve to move to a smaller town and there are some things I miss, and some I don’t. In a bigger town or city there are more places to hide. I see my neighbours everywhere in Härnösand, but I didn’t even know my neighbour’s names in Northampton.”
The difference in mannerisms between Swedes and Brits are quite noticeable, he says. “Swedish people seem to be calmer while Brits are always running round like headless chickens,” he laughs.
“My wife is very happy we’ve moved here. She lets me get away with a bit more now, I’m not annoying her as much by getting under her feet or coming and going. And I’m just able to be around more. We sit down for dinner together, we go for walks. She doesn't have to look after the kids all the time while I'm away and they are not suddenly pushed on me for the weekend when I’m back. We spend time with them equally.”
Moving to Härnösand has offered the Corby family of four the opportunity to open a longed-for business, and the ability to spend more time together in a family-oriented atmosphere. The idyllic setting is a beautiful place for the children to grow up.
“My wife has been telling me for years it would be better for us to be here so we can see more of each other. But I thought it doesn't matter where you are. But now I see that she was right.”
Article by The Local's intern Saina Behnejad.