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CULTURE

My Swedish Career: Meet the café owner bringing a slice of New York to Gothenburg

Upon moving to Sweden, American Elizabeth Rubin found that she was longing for the food she used to eat back home. But rather than going back to New York, she brought her home city to Sweden, in the form of Jimmy & Joan's New York. This Gothenburg-based café offers up authentic favourites from the Big Apple – everything from cheesecake to freshly baked bagels – and has amassed quite a following in the weeks since its opening.

My Swedish Career: Meet the café owner bringing a slice of New York to Gothenburg
Elizabeth Rubin. Photo: Jimmy & Joan's New York

When Rubin relocated to Gothenburg in 2006, she was far from new to the country. Having married and had a son with a Swede, she had spent summers and Christmases in her then-husband's home country. But making the move to live full-time in Sweden proved a tricky transition for the native New Yorker.

“I don't think that anyone can prepare you for moving to Sweden!” she laughs. “Before I took the plunge, we'd holidayed here, and I'd always liked it as a straightforward society, one that would allow me to get away from the rat race. It was simpler than New York, more affordable. It felt safer. I fell in love immediately with the closeness to nature, the sea being right on your doorstep.”

“Yet, when we moved here, I wasn't prepared for the lack of noise. I found it deafeningly quiet. As a New Yorker, that took quite some getting used to; after 8pm, it's quiet everywhere. I had to adjust to not being able to get anything at any time.”

There were other elements of Swedish culture that clashed with how Rubin was used to living. “In Sweden there are lots of unspoken rules and routines, some of which didn't make any sense to me – 'on Fridays, we eat tacos', 'we eat sweets on Saturday'. I found myself trying to conform to these rules and, in doing so, started to lose part of who I was. I felt I had to do something to re-discover who I was in Sweden.”

And re-discovery came, in the form which felt most natural to the seasoned entrepreneur. Rubin, who had previously started her own beauty businesses in the US, threw herself into setting up a café serving up what she knew and loved best: New York food.

“I wanted to bring the food I'm passionate about to Sweden – recipes I enjoy most from home. When I opened Jimmy & Joan's, that was my one rule: everything I sold would have to be one hundred percent authentic New York food.”


Freshly-baked bagels at Rubin's café. Photo: Jimmy & Joan's New York

And although Rubin doesn't serve Swedish food in the café, she holds certain elements of local cuisine close to her heart, waxing lyrical about the delights of Swedish seafood. “It's beautiful. Oysters, fish, shrimp. I've had some of the best, freshest seafood I've ever tasted in Sweden.”

The café has deep personal connections for Rubin: “The concept of Jimmy & Joan's is all about my family – Jimmy was my father and Joan was his twin sister. The whole place is a love letter to my family, who have all now passed. The navy blue walls are the colour of my childhood home. The recipes for the food we serve were my mother Charlotte's recipes. It's a place that lets me be close to those that I've loved and I've lost. Every day I get to have the people I've loved around me.”

Rubin wants her customers to feel a personal connection to Jimmy & Joan's, too. The café's Instagram spotlights those who come through the building's doors, telling their stories and making them a part of the brand's history: “The concept of the place is 'simple things, done to a high quality'. It's a beautiful place, but it's not intimidating. People talk to each other, people listen to each other. People want to hear each other's experiences. And I like to look after customers – if someone's having a hard day, I give them a piece of cheesecake on the house. It's a very individualized approach to running a business.”

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Jimmyandjoansnewyork (@jimmyandjoansnewyork) on Oct 16, 2018 at 2:58am PDT

While the café has enjoyed immediate success among locals in Gothenburg, already securing a loyal customer base, getting the site open was not always plain sailing. Rubin notes: “I noticed that I needed to get past a lot of bureaucracy in Sweden – everything takes a long time. It was a shock to the system for me; I'm used to getting things done quickly, so it was frustrating at points.”

“I was building my business over the summer, but everyone in Sweden was on holiday, so had to look further afield to stock the café – I even got my door handles from England. But it turned out to be a positive, as everything in the building looks unique.”

Rubin's experience as an entrepreneur in Sweden has given her insight into setting up a business in this country. “For any international person wishing to start their own company in Sweden, I'd say: know your DNA. Know who you are. Don't water it down. It's the way that you can keep your business authentic to your vision. Sweden is so open to the international scene right now – turn your point of difference into your strength.”

And while Rubin is well and truly settled in Sweden, with a bilingual son and an established business here, there are still aspects of her character that can make for lost-in-translation moments in her day-to-day life. “Often in Sweden people think I'm upset if I raise my voice. I have to explain to them, 'I'm just excited – I'm a New Yorker, that's how we talk!'”

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MY SWEDISH CAREER

My Swedish Career: ‘What I have found here is that the key to life is free time’

Federico Micolucci is a modern-day Venetian renaissance man, combining scientific research in water treatment at Gothenburg University with a second career as a techno DJ and label owner.

My Swedish Career: 'What I have found here is that the key to life is free time'

Micolucci arrived in Sweden four years ago, when he won a post-doc position at Lund University researching energy-efficient water treatment technologies, and for the last two years, he has been commuting weekly to Gothenburg University, where he is further developing experimental methods to clean the water supply, using membrane filtration and activated carbon to remove pharmaceuticals and other harmful contaminants.

But Micolucci has for more than 12 years had a second life as an established techno DJ, and in Sweden he has somehow also found the time to spin records at raves and various clubs around Malmö, where he currently lives, creating his own music on a label (Eight of Cups) he founded with a fellow foreigner Gregory Vartian-Foss.

“On a creative level, this town is unique, golden,” he says of Malmö. “There’s real, dynamic energy in the arts scene, and you notice more and more that it is being recognised – internationally, even.” 

He met Vartian-Foss, a professional bass player with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra who comes from Los Angeles, three years ago, and they soon started bonding over a passion for rare Italo disco records. 

In their most recent project, they formed a trio with the Swedish multi-instrumentalist and singer Miranda Gjerstad, covering a rare, nearly forgotten gem of Italo disco, which they have reissued on vinyl, alongside their own cover version.

Vartian-Foss now creates his music in a shared studio in the growing creative haven of Norra Grängesbergsgatan, he previously produced his tracks at the arts and music venue, Inkonst, and he regularly performs alongside Gregory as resident DJ at Plan B – a frequently packed Malmö concert and club institution.

Federico Federico Micolucci examines a hollow fiber membrane. Photo: Private

At the same time, Micolucci’s research has been developing at a fast pace. He recently took over operations at an innovative waste-water treatment plant in Helsingborg, and this winter, he won the prestigious Marie-Curie fellowship for postdoctoral scientific research.

Micolucci has been impressed by the extent to which his Swedish fellow researchers and mentors have gone out of their way to make him feel comfortable in academic life.

“Generally speaking, the feeling I got from Swedish society was that people are polite, thoughtful, and seem to avoid prejudging. At the same time, it was a bit challenging as everyone started to push me (in a positive way, I might add) to listen to, speak, and immerse myself in the Swedish language.”

His experience of academia in Denmark and at home in Italy has shown him that the sector is marked by stiff competition, something he believes can be positive if helps drive innovation. In this Sweden is no exception, he says, with the main difference being the level of conflict avoidance. 

“Swedes are uncomfortable confronting people when something goes wrong,” he believes. “They try to keep a positive work environment, which is great – but this can sometimes lead to mistakes going uncorrected and unresolved misunderstandings. I don’t want to sound overly judgemental, but I think it’s just a stark difference from Italian society, in which people can be pretty direct and sometimes confrontational.”

Federico Micolucci in his day job as a scientist. Photo: Private

Federico’s eyes light up when talking about his new job in Helsingborg.

Part of Helsingborg’s urban renewal district, Oceanhamnen, the operational plant and research site is the world’s first full-scale filtration system of its kind.

“It’s the best job I have ever had,” he says. “My Swedish colleagues are supportive, welcoming every day, and positive in a real way. They encourage employees to be comfortable and maintain a good work-life balance. At the same time, they believe in making strides in research and finding solutions to improve the ways in which we interface with the environment. It’s a great feeling. Rarely before, did I wake up every day feeling good about going to work.” 

Micolucci still misses his native Italy, which he describes as “the most beautiful country in the world, taking into account the combination of landscapes, architecture, and food”, but he makes do with keeping in touch with friends and family in Venice on the phone, and making regular trips back home. 

“It’s harder to live there and much more stressful from a working perspective,” he says. “What I have found here in Sweden is that the key to life is free time. Sure, work is important, but it can’t always be the priority in life, and many companies, at least in my field, understand this. I’m able to develop my passions and spend time with my beloved friends, doing what I love – much more than would be possible back home. “

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