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.
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.”
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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!'”