'We want people to realize it's okay to think outside the box'

Emma Löfgren
Emma Löfgren - [email protected]
'We want people to realize it's okay to think outside the box'

Carolynn Baker and Pearly Teo have opened their own café in Gothenburg, and it's nothing like traditional Swedish fika.


As many of The Local's international readers may agree, being thrust into the unknown by moving to a new country like, for example, Sweden sometimes feels like you have fallen down the rabbit hole.

But for two Alice in Wonderland fans from the US and Singapore, this is exactly where they wanted to be.

So when Carolynn Baker and Pearly Teo opened a new café in Gothenburg, they both agreed to turn it into a wonderful, chaotic mishmash of colours, flavours and most of all, fun.

"We don't take life so seriously, we want to encourage people to be more creative and embrace it, realize that it's okay to think outside the box," says 29-year-old Baker, a passionate ice tea drinker from Texas, who moved to Sweden seven years ago.

She and Teo speak to The Local just a few weeks after opening the doors to their Down the Rabbit Hole Café.

Photo: Down the Rabbit Hole Café

"We're both fans of Alice in Wonderland and wanted to do a new take on Swedish 'fika'. A lot of cafés serve the same thing – coffee and cinnamon buns – and we wanted something whimsical and different, not a normal café," explains Baker. "A creative experience."

She and Teo met when Baker was hosting a convention dedicated to Japanese Lolita fashion – dressing up as Japanese Victorian-style dolls – in Sweden. Teo, who was working as a food vendor at the time, provided the catering for the event.

They quickly became friends and after Teo, 29, who came to Sweden from Singapore almost three years ago, told Baker about her dream to open a café, they eventually also became business partners.

"I wanted to start a food truck, but because of all the red tape in the city, it was actually easier to start a café," says Teo. "We started looking for café spaces early this year, but in Sweden it's important to have a good location because people don't want to travel."

"Then we had to get all the paperwork signed, but it was close to the summer holidays, so people stopped working – you know what it's like in Sweden," she laughs.

"They're like 'bye!'," Baker interjects about the Nordic habit of taking at least four weeks off in summer.

Photo: Down the Rabbit Hole Café

With talented self-trained chef Teo mainly in charge of the menu, the Down the Rabbit Hole Café serves a mix of Asia-inspired lunches a well as a huge variety of tea and cupcakes.

"A lot of foreigners here start up businesses because they can't find jobs. I don't actually have a degree in cooking, so a lot of Swedish places wouldn't hire me," says Teo.

The food is mostly vegetarian, and they have made a conscious effort to provide plenty of vegan options as well. The furniture is provided by their friends at Recreate Design Company in Gothenburg, which upcycles scrap material to give it a new lease of life.

"A lot of people have loved the idea and the food," says Baker. "It's been fun to make different cool recipes. Making them vegan has been a fun challenge."

"I love the dumplings. We make vegan homemade soy mince dumplings. My favourite sweets are the matcha cupcakes," she adds. "It's all ecological, fair trade, locally produced stuff – my neighbours have a farm so we buy the eggs from them."

Photo: Down the Rabbit Hole Café

For now, the pair are busy being wrapped up in the experience of running their own café, seeing its popularity grow by word of mouth and enjoying the familial community feel of the area (their opening hours aren't set in stone and if they feel like staying open longer on any given day they often do).

But that will not stop them from making plans for the future. "We do eventually want to open a restaurant, or a food truck in summer, or maybe other themed cafés," says Teo, adding that their philosophy is to seize the moment. "Life is short and you don't know what's going to happen with all the things going on in the world."

"Alice in Wonderland takes you back to being innocent no matter your age," adds Baker, who says she feels integrated in the Gothenburg community and at home in Sweden. "We have to remember to embrace that."


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