The thunderbolt struck in 2005 for Vapiano and the Swede Christian Lagerlöf—love at first sight! The engineer and the young restaurant brand first met in Germany, but they then went separate ways. Lagerlöf followed his career to London, but couldn’t get the beauty from Hamburg out of his head. He also harbored a dream of starting his own business, so in 2006 Lagerlöf decided to get back in touch. It wasn’t long before he showed up at the company headquarters in Bonn with his cousin Magnus to snatch the franchise license for his homeland (around 10 million inhabitants). The quality of the cuisine, the freshness and the good value of the concept had especially turned the Swede’s head. “But I am also fascinated by the transparency, the open kitchen, and the service system,” says Lagerlöf. “There just wasn’t anything like it in Sweden.”
He brought his new love to Stockholm in April 2007, and the Swedes took quick notice. “The reaction was very positive,” says the entrepreneur, who has since then also introduced his communicative Italian with the Hanseatic origins to the residents of Malmö and even to neighbors in Oslo, Norway. And now he is readying the opening of his fifth restaurant in Sweden’s capital.
Haven’t there been any adjustment problems? “Italian cuisine works everywhere. And the guests here are not very different from those in Germany. Still, pasta is not seen as a quick-service product in Sweden. And pizza has a bad reputation due to its usually poor quality. We have had to go up against both of these prejudices.” Since then, pasta has established itself as a clear bestseller, especially thanks to additional recipes made for the meat-loving Scandinavians.
About short lunch breaks
What about upcoming challenges? “In Sweden everyone has a break from 11:30 to 12:15—the lunch rush is extremely short and intense” says Lagerlöf. “The waiting times are our biggest problem, particularly since we don’t want to make any compromises in terms of quality and price.”
Like many of his colleagues around the world, Lagerlöf imports many ingredients directly from Italy for the sake of quality. From flour to cured ham, cheese, and many other products, this is no problem in Sweden, while in non-European Union Norway it is more complicated due to high import duties. Northern Europe’s typically high personnel costs also require some kind of balance, such as the relatively low rents for extra-large locations.
Seven years after his first opening, Lagerlöf is counted among the most successful of Vapiano partners. The brand has learned Swedish, is fully understood by the Scandinavians, and has made many lasting friends there. With the opening of its fifth restaurant, Stockholm is ranked near the top of Vapiano’s most densely penetrated markets. And Lagerlöf still sees plenty of room for more offspring: Vapiano opened its doors in Gothenburg in 2014.
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