Meet the international entrepreneurs making Stockholm's neighbourhoods vibrant

Stockholm is full of vibrant local communities. While the likes of Södermalm, Hornstull, and Aspudden have attracted much attention, you can find bustling little enclaves across the whole city, attracting young families, creative minds and new businesses.

Published: Wed 22 Dec 2021 11:29 CEST
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Martin and Fran Baxter in Slow Hands

What's more, at the beating heart of many of these close-knit, local neighbourhoods are new ventures run by international entrepreneurs.

The Local spoke with two small business owners in Stockholm, originally from the UK and Italy but now based in Hägerstensåsen and Årsta, to find out more about life in their friendly suburbs, and how they’re quickly becoming pockets of international dynamism.

'A fresh air of optimism'

“It’s just such a lovely, friendly area,” says Martin Baxter, the co-owner, with his twin brother Fran, of the Slow Hands café in Hägerstensåsen. “All our customers seem to have interesting lives and careers. And they’re all really friendly, not just with us, but also with each other. This area has such a nice community feel.”

There are many cafés in the surrounding suburbs, such as Aspudden, Midsommarkransen, and Telefonplan, but in Hägerstensåsen the brothers spotted an opportunity.

“There are lots of young families, lots of creative people, architects and so on, but there hadn’t been a great deal to do around there, so it felt like a really good place to set up a café before it became too established,” says Martin.

Learn more about life in Stockholm from internationals who live and work in the city

The brothers, who moved to Stockholm from St Helen’s in northern England five years ago “with just a couple of bags”, only use local suppliers for the food in their cafe.

“We’re making sure we buy from other local businesses – it costs more but the quality is much higher and customers really appreciate that the food is locally sourced. These days everyone wants to know where their food comes from, so we’re very clear about it. And most of these small business owners are, like us, not Swedish. It’s a really thriving community of international entrepreneurs.”

The cafe is also becoming a work hub for local freelancers. “Quite a few self-employed creative people come in here to work now. We make them feel really welcome and it just adds to the feel of a friendly, cooperative neighbourhood.”

Art on coffee latte. Photo: Getty Images

Martin is excited about the future. “The area at first felt like a bit of blank canvas. Lots of people were – and still are – moving in. But now it has this fresh air of optimism, with lots of families starting off their new lives in a new area – it feels like it’s going to be an exciting next few years. I think Hägerstensåsen is going to be unrecognisable in five years, but in a good way.”

But there has been one unintended consequence of the brothers’ success. “We’re looking to buy an apartment no more than five minutes’ walk away from the cafe, and, incredibly, we’ve seen that the estate agents have been using photographs of our cafe as a selling point for the area."

“We might have shot ourselves in the foot by making the area more desirable,” Martin jokes. “We’ve helped increase property prices in the area before we’ve bought a place ourselves!”

'No pressure to conform or be cool'

Barbara Caracciolo, the owner of Årsta's Spigamadre, is originally from Rome and first came to Sweden 17 years ago to study a PhD in epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden's most prestigious medical research centre. But five years ago, she started to get itchy feet and switched from brains to bakery – quite a leap.

She opened Spigamadre four years ago, lives just a few minutes' walk from her business and loves her life today, as well as the neighbourhood.

Sweet treats at Spigamadre in Årsta. Photo: Spigamadre

“I grew disengaged with research,” Barbara says. “Everything about my work was so slow. Writing a paper could take years and applications for funding could be quite stressful. I guess I am just not that patient. When I’m baking, I know right away if the bread is good or bad – I love that instantaneous gratification!”

Like Martin, Barbara says the friendly vibe in her local area helps to provide a good quality of life. 

“It’s very clean, orderly, and quiet with lots of nature," she says. "Very lagom and very Swedish. The locals are friendly and laid back. You can wear sweatpants out for two months straight if you feel like it. There’s no pressure to conform or be cool.”

And, according to Barbara, Spigamadre has become a hub for a local community in Stockholm she had barely been aware of before. 

“Many people in the neighbourhood come to my shop," she says. "When I worked as a researcher, I did not see much of my neighbours. I would leave home at 8am and often not be back until 8pm. I didn’t even know the people in my building until I started my bakery. Now I know many of them! And several of my customers and neighbours are asking me to expand the space so they can all meet here."

Barbara Caracciolo at Spigamadre

Spigamadre has become a haven for the neighbourhood during the pandemic. “The bakery has become even busier during Covid. People didn’t want to venture very far afield, but they knew they could trust us. They know we offer very high quality food.”

Barbara’s business, like Martin’s cafe in Hägerstensåsen, has also a wider impact on the area beyond becoming a refuge and hub for her community. She's also noticed local estate agents using pictures of Spigamadre to help sell Årsta, and hopes her success will encourage other non-Swedes to set up small businesses in the area.

“It’s quite funny that they’re using my business to promote the lure of Årsta but it also feels like a compliment,” she says. “We must be doing something right! The area is slowly becoming renowned as a foodies’ paradise with a number of different ethnic restaurants. Årsta is a great place to explore different cuisines!"

Interested in setting up your own business in Stockholm? 


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