Updated: Nov 28, 2021
In Sweden bachelor (Svensexa) and bachelorette (Möhippa) parties have only recently grown in popularity, but in the US they are a milestone event usually just before the wedding. Since my best friend Erinn was doing all the planning and lives in Baltimore it made the most sense to have it around D.C. However the cheapest flight combination had me flying into New York JFK. To say I was conflicted about leaving in the middle of our renovations would be an understatement, but as a bridesmaid many times over and headed towards spinsterhood before meeting Erik, my bachelorette party was an important event for me. This would also be a two fold trip as I would be getting some additional things (i.e. corn tortilla flour) that we still hadn't solved the supply issues for. The flight got in late on the 25th and I rented a car and drove to Baltimore (about 3.5 hours away). I think I arrived at Erinn's around 3 am, fortunately I had kept my US data plan in anticipation of this trip so I was able to stay awake by talking with Erik in Sweden over Facebook messenger. The next day we would go into Baltimore so I could shop for some of the things we needed.
The following day we drove into Baltimore to meet up with everyone for the bachelorette party, many of which I hadn't seen in several years. Erinn chose Alice in Wonderland as the theme for the bachelorette party (it was one of my favorite books as a child) and everyone came dressed as one of the characters from the book; I chose the Queen of Hearts as it felt like a more interesting character to be as a bachelorette. She put an amazing amount of time and effort into making it an exciting and fun all day event which included whimsical and Wonderlandesque locations and events with brunch, tea time and scavenger hunt at the Mansion on O street, dinner at Mad Hatters and a hookah lounge night club. It was a lovely and memorable time that I will never forget. I flew out from New York on a late flight the next day.
It was a frantic three day visit (total of five days with the travel time), but arriving back in Sweden I felt excited and happy, Gotland was home now. Ever the romantic, Erik had set up marcher and a tasty little charcuterie board and champagne with an adorable card.😍
It was April now, just one month away from the grand opening, and the weather was finally getting warmer. We were really hopping now, but there were still so many difficult wickets left to go through, one was the alkoholtilstånd (alcohol license) and the uteservering (outdoor seating area). As I mentioned previously we got some early feedback that the area of the old deck was not a really good location when the summer sun sets facing the cantina entrance. While we had not budgeted for a major exterior renovation we decided that the investment in building the outdoor patio and re-doing the entrance would likely increase customer satisfaction and thereby bring a satisfactory enough return on investment to pay for the addition. Since we needed to wait for the weather to warm up to pour the concrete is was cutting it super close to the opening.
In Sweden an establishments alcohol license is much more difficult to get than in the US. There is a police check, credit check and fairly expensive and difficult test to pass. Difficult not because the questions are hard per se, but because the questions are not black and white and there could be multiple correct answers, but only one BEST answer. With only a 50% pass rate on the first try it was not going to be easy. In preparation for the test I would read sample test questions to Erik (which were in Swedish of course) during our thirty minute drives into the city. On the day of the test I was super nervous, a potential delay in the alcohol license would have a major impact on the grand opening if we couldn't sell alcohol. When Erik came down after the test and told me he didn't pass though I was in shock, we had studied a lot, but I quickly found out that Erik had convinced the official to make it a joke that he had failed when he had actually passed and in pretty record time too. 😁
Concurrently with the final renovations I finally began to be able to focus on the food. It was becoming clear that our initial service concepts were not going to work so well. We also began getting tight on the budget as we had spent more than planned for the interior carpentry, the exterior entrance and patio. Where this was beginning to impact most was the budget for the Got'em Taco Tank (our food truck). In the middle of April we made the difficult decision to put this effort on hold. One of the other major production issues we had was in getting the US machinery to work. Although we had bought a converter to help with these challenges, it worked poorly with any machine that had a motor (i.e. kitchen aid stand mixer). We would also discover that our tortilla machine, the most critical item we needed, would have to be hard wired into the electrical system.
We also didn't initially plan to hire staff, thinking that with the volume we estimated Erik and I could do it alone, but with the time it was taking me to focus on the food production and planning we decided we would need help. We hired one of the former establishments employees to help in making the tortillas. It was also around this time that it became very clear that our "room" in the cantina was not going to work after we opened. Since it was getting warmer there was finally the opportunity to get the former kitchen camping cabin renovated and outfitted with year round water (which required digging the water and sewage pipes into the ground below the frost line, or about 3 feet), another unplanned expense. We outfitted it with a toilet, sink and shower and although supremely small, it afforded us some privacy and felt like a little studio apartment.
In terms of marketing, our original plan was to do only social media and have a strong internet footprint with the use of SEOs (search engine optimization). As a result of this effort we landed on the radar of the P4 Radio Gotland. With just two weeks to go until the grand opening though we got asked to do a cooking segment on a popular weekly show called Maris Cafe (a guest show that highlighted cultural and social initiatives and organizations on Gotland). Although I was super stressed and we were having a special event the next day to test out our processes with around forty locals, it was undeniable that the advertising we could get from this would be invaluable. We also got approached by the Gotlands Guiden (the main free tourist magazine) about advertising in their publication. In his former career in the US Erik had a lot of experience with the cost of advertising and what we were quoted by the Gotlands Guiden was insane, so expensive that we were concerned that we would even make up the cost of the investment. However with now seeing a huge increase interest on our social media from out segment on Maris Cafe we decided to negotiate and include a feature article in addition to the advertising and hoped that it would justify the expense.
The soft opening event we did with locals was invaluable for getting feedback on our concept and also our food production practices. So many of our earlier ideas became completely obsolete in light of how fast we would need to get the food out when trying to serve large numbers of people at the same time (something that would very much reflect the coming summer). This event also became invaluable in understanding the demographic that we were going to most appeal to, which turns out is NOT the local Gothem population. While the idea of Mexican food and Tex-Mex was not a foreign concept in Sweden, it was with an Old El Paso, mildly spiced ground beef, cucumber and canned corn spin. The rural population on Gotland was very much similar to rural America. Going out to eat was not a common practice but reserved for only special occasions and the dining concepts in Sweden at the time were still somewhat formal (casual dining is just now becoming more common). While there was no specifically negative feedback from the event, the locals expressed concern that the Mexican dishes would not be popular and that we should add entrecote, pizza or other Swedish dishes if we wanted people to come. We took most of this advice with a grain of salt however as both Erik and I were confident that our concept was wanted and needed.
We were now just one week away from our grand opening when we got a fortuitous message from one of Erik's childhood friends, Petter, who just so happened to be a professional chef. He was volunteering to come help us with our grand opening so that he could learn more about this cuisine. And although much of the restaurant business is pretty intuitive (good food, good service, good atmosphere) on the food side of things there were definitely "insider" tips and tricks that I lacked and I knew would help us to be better and more efficient. Petter's experience and help was invaluable in getting us to the final stretches of our grand opening. We also hired another Gothem local, who was looking for a career change, Helena, to help with final decorations and food prep. It was a whirlwind three months, but now the day was here May 5th, Cinco de Mayo 2015 Carpe Diem! To be continued...