In Grandpa Family, we highlight creative, exciting, and ambitious people who are close to us. This time we met up with Kristian Hedborg in Gothenburg, founder, and CEO of the coffee shops Alkemisten, and partner in a coffee roastery called Ritu.
Stepping into Alkemisten we’re a bit early, and Kristian hasn’t arrived yet. Colorful lamps, soft music, pillows everywhere, and coffee-related trinkets decorate the small café. A delightful guy named Mike greets us, asks if we’re from Grandpa, and offers us a cup of coffee - one of many we had that day. Soon enough Kristian comes along with his bike. He’s happy, calm, and ready for our day together. “This is our first café, this is where it all began.”
Read our full interview with him below.
You coffee shop Alkemisten – how did the journey start and what has happened since?
The dream of Alkemisten started at the end of another dream, where my partnership in an Italian coffee shop came to an abrupt end. The other partners wanted me out, for reasons I still can’t grasp. It ended in a legal process where I did what I could to not be crushed. The end of this dream I’ve had for such a long time shook up my entire world, and it was one of the worst times of my life.
Sometime after that period, I started looking for work at cafés, without success. Eventually, I decided on taking matters into my own hands and started sketching out my plan for my own café. Eventually, I was offered a space in Kvillebäcken in Gothenburg, which was more of a construction site than anything else at the time. I was reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho at the time, which inspired me to name the café Alkemisten. The book is about following your dreams without giving up, the universe will arrange in a way to help you on your journey. This resonated strongly with me at the time and gave me confidence and energy to push forward.
Within two months of opening, we’d been nominated as “Newcomer of the year” in the White Guide. Since then we’ve been receiving nominations and acknowledgments from left and right, both nationally and internationally.
"We’ve grown into a big family of staff and guests that meet every day. Thinking back on all that has happened, I feel this tremendous sense of gratefulness. Alkemisten was the light at the end of that dark tunnel."
— Kristian Hedborg
For you personally, what has this journey meant? What have you learned along the way?
I’ve learned so much, and feel like I keep growing all the time. I’ve become quite knowledgeable about coffee. Over time and with the opening of our second coffee shop I’ve shifted my focus more toward organization, leadership, and communication. As our Alkemisten community is growing, the new challenge is how to keep a cohesive, happy, and highly functioning team without me being there all the time. It’s very exciting and I keep making mistakes and learning from them all the time.
Do you have any spare time at all, and how do you spend it?
I do. I spend much of my spare time taking it easy, either by myself or with friends and family. I do a lot of yoga, meditation, and other activities that help me calm down and reconnect with myself. This winter I’ve been chasing sunsets and lighting fires with a close friend. Anything related to nature, authentic meetings, or personal development appeals to me. Right now I’m starting a four-month-long course on leadership which I’m very excited about!
Do you have any good ideas for mustering up the energy it takes to be an entrepreneur?
Are there any particular experiences that you’d like to share that could be of help to others?
2016 I opened a restaurant and couldn’t be at Alkemisten anymore. I thought I had to be there for everything to work and found it hard to let go. I was wrong and it turned out to work even better when I let go of the control and trusted my team mates. Something magical happens when you take a step back and give responsibility to others.
I’ve really learned the importance of having a strong why. Why do I do this? Why do I want to open another café or start a coffee roastery? Is it for the money, the likes on Instagram, being the best there is at coffee, personal development or creating meaning for others? If I have a strong and meaningful why it drives me and keeps me going despite obstacles and hurdles that may arise. It’s like an inner compass.
What makes you happy?
I love the feeling of being in a flow without any inner resistance, and when I can meet life in whatever way it presents itself with an open heart. When I can be with what is, without the need to add or remove something to make it better.
Another thing that made me happy was the tasting of the coffee we’ve imported from Mario Lorenzo in Panama – some of the best coffee beans there are. My friend Anthony Nguyen who’s a roaster and partner with me at Ritu Coffee Roasters is a well-renowned barista who brewed it to perfection. I love having coffee where all the excellent work and passion behind it shines through.
Tell us about your coffee roastery Ritu.
This is a project and an experiment where I and Anthony have created an arena where we can do everything we love about coffee. We do everything from sourcing the best coffee to making new connections with coffee farmers around the world, to roasting and creating a new coffee brand. We’ll be focusing on coffee from Vietnam, which is where Anthony is from. We want to help farmers bring their coffee to more cafés, make sure they are paid well and show that Vietnam is an exciting coffee nation.
What’s in the future for Alkemisten and Ritu?
This summer I envision how Covid comes to an end and is greeted by a non-stop party at our coffee shops. Happy people dancing in the sun, drinking iced coffee. How our staff are enjoying life and spreading joy to the world. For me, I’ll keep learning from my mistakes and get more comfortable in my leadership role.
Finally, do you have any coffee hacks that anyone can apply to enhance their coffee experience?
One hack that will make a lot of difference is buying newly roasted coffee and grinding it yourself.
Another is to start the coffee brewer and let the water start pouring for a few seconds, then turn it off, and stir the coffee. Wait for 30 seconds and then turn it back on again. This is called “blooming” and will increase the taste and body of the coffee.