Take Love, Bread, and a Dash of Enthusiasm



When this young couple opened their first bakery in 2008, they benefitted from the large sourdough revival that was then sweeping across Sweden. Only six years later, the two of them own eleven stores in Stockholm and, in 2013, they opened a bakery in London’s trendy Shoreditch district.

They resemble a come-to-life image from the Getty Images gallery in the category: "Perfect Family". Man: tall, slim, charming smile. Woman: attractive, radiant eyes, cheerful demeanor. Add two wide-eyed children with chocolate crumbs in their chubby hands and traces of flour on their faces: Meet the Zetterströms.

The events leading to this setting started 16 years ago. David and Charlotta met in a bakery where he was helping out as a baker and she worked behind the counter. Both were students at the time; they fell in love and the rest is history. "Already then we were dreaming of running our own bakery," Charlotta tells us. "We wanted to start a bakery that would bring the tradition of hand-made products back to life, but in a modern setting," David explains.

We want to be a neighborhood bakery. The kind where everybody knows each other and you feel comfortable going to even in your PJs.

The bakery shops stand out not only on account of their signature combination of rustic charm and a vital dash of hipness, but also – and primarily – thanks to their traditional sourdough loaves. This type of bread-making dates back to ancient Egypt, but was almost entirely eradicated by the advent of commercial bread production common in industrialized countries. Recently, this labor-intensive bread-making process experienced a renaissance in Sweden along with the rest of Europe and parts of the United States. It became so popular in Sweden that, a few years ago, a “sourdough hotel” was opened. Located in the fashionable Södermalm district, the hotel is said to charge approximately 40 dollars a week for accommodating a batch of sourdough. To make your own sourdough, you need water, flour – and above all fermenting time. The dough needs constant tending, and the staff at the hotel provides the service, regularly adding flour and water to the dough that has taken up lodgings there. In sourdough, a bacteria culture that acts like yeast evolves. This is what gives sourdough loaves their typical flavor. Time and again, a small morsel of this dough can be used to start a fresh batch of dough for a new loaf of bread with the same aroma.

Whether this is just an example of successful PR for the bakery that is associated with the hotel or actually a new niche market remains to be seen. Fact is "in Scandinavia, stay-at-home Dads contributed significantly to the entire revival of artisanal products," David states. "You don't want to give your kids something that you don't know, so, being a man, you prefer to make it yourself."

Having your cake and eating in too

Yet, for the Zetterströms staying-at-home parenting was never a topic. "We have excellent childcare here," Charlotta says. "Just not today, today's our day off," David smiles and wipes traces of iced tea off his son's face. The secret to having a 16-year relationship, two children, and 11 bakeries while still appearing to be very much in love with each other can probably be attributed to the ups-and-downs they have successfully weathered together. As Charlotta says, "We had to learn step-by-step. One thing after the other." And David adds: "Of course not without making some mistakes along the way."

The most important thing of all is that we never tell each other what to do. We discuss everything, but give each other enough space.

"Our collaboration has many advantages. Like coming home in the late afternoon, having supper and telling each other what happened during our day. That's always a good moment," David comments. "It's so important that the inspiration we feel about our work doesn't get lost. And it's essential that we each follow through in our own way," Charlotta feels. To do so, she has rented herself a desk in an open-space office. "Interacting with other people is enormously important. Otherwise you lose your drive, and we don’t want that."

Family life keeps them busy as well. Still, according to David, managing their children and their work is not as difficult as it sounds." He feels that being an entrepreneur and having a family has a lot of similarities. "When you have kids, it doesn't matter if they're in school or somewhere else. They're constantly at the back of your mind whether they're with you or not. Just accept it – it’s a good thing. With a company it's the same thing; it's always there. So there's no use in pretending you don't think about it during your holidays. But that's not a reason to stop going on vacation." And Charlotta adds, "There's no use in pretending you don't think about it during your holidays. But that's not a reason to stop going on vacation. Kids and work are simply a part of our life that we wouldn't want to miss. It works really well for us."

Of course, sometimes we're still talking about work when we go to bed. But even if that's not how we want to spend every evening, neither of us feels that it's a bad thing. This is the life that we have chosen to lead together.

In the meantime, the Zetterströms have more than 50 employees. And they still have a lot of plans. As David explains, "I think there's definitely potential to develop our brand even more. We just haven't really had the time to do so. Despite everything, we're just a small outfit. Basically, the two of us, we are the company."

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