We had the good fortune of connecting with Johan Engman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Johan, can you share the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
Don’t be afraid to fail, and when you do fail pick yourself up immediately and keep on pushing. Failure, or “temporary setbacks” is part of it.
What should our readers know about your business?
I was born and raised in Östersund, Sweden before moving to San Diego in 1997 at the age of 16. One year later, I moved out on my own while still in high
school, working nights as a dishwasher to pay rent. I was promoted to busser, then server, and continued working at multiple restaurants throughout San Diego until I was 25. Realizing my passion for the industry, I gave himself two years to save money to open my own restaurant. On October 9th, 2008 I opened Fig Tree Cafe in Pacific Beach on a shoestring budget of $45,000. After three months of losing money, I was faced with a tough decision. To close the restaurant and make some drastic changes my life, or somehow come up with a way to keep the doors open. Many people suggested that I close the place down. “The economy is terrible Johan, nobody will blame you for closing,” they’d say. Due to my stubbornness and determination, I decided that under no circumstances would I throw in the towel. I limited the hours of operation for the restaurant as much as possible, and finagled his way into a full-time job in the accounting department of a pharmaceutical company (long story on how I managed to
pull that off without any experience). I managed to pay personal bills and offset
the losses of the restaurant for three years after opening, until the restaurant finally turned a profit. In 2011, I left the corporate job and opened Fig Tree Cafe’s
second location. I have always been an avid traveler. It’s a way for me to recharge my batteries while being inspired by new countries, cultures and cuisines. I vividly remember being in a hut next to the Danum River in the rainforest of Borneo during a day when it wouldn’t stop raining. I was thinking about Fig Tree Cafe and the aspects of its concept that could be improved. In lieu of drastically changing it, I decided to conceptualize a new restaurant utilizing what I’d learned from opening and running Fig Tree Cafe. I knew I wanted to simplify things and ensure that the consumer could identify and relate to the concept. I believed that breakfast was a severely underserved market and had lots of room for growth, not to mention that the San Diego
consumer really seemed to love the first meal of the day, along with the boozy brunches that come with it. Twelve hours later the rain was still pouring down, and the name “California Breakfast Republic” was born. The original idea for the logo was not what it is today, but not far from it. I continued adding ideas, such as a placing heavy emphasis on design and branding, designing a menu that was unique yet still offered the classics, and incorporating hidden puns and quotes throughout the restaurant that the consumer would discover over multiple visits.
Breakfast Republic (I decided to drop “California” from the name) opened its doors in North Park on July 26th, 2015. The attention to detail, such as quirky quotes printed on the undersides of coffee cups, funny and sarcastic sayings on napkin bands, life-sized “egg” chairs, bathroom “music” and mirrors along with custom-made branded t-shirts and caps, were a hit from the beginning. Almost exactly one year later, Breakfast Republic’s second location in Liberty Station
opened, followed by several more spots over the next few years. New Breakfast
Republics continue to pop up in San Diego, having expanded to Orange County and most recently, to Los Angeles. My restaurants are under the umbrella of Rise
and Shine Hospitality Group, which includes other successful restaurants such as Feast and Fareway, Eggies, and Gaslamp Breakfast Company, with more to come.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
We’d hang out at the beach and have some tacos, go hiking at Torrey Pines. Possibly head to Mexico for the day and have some Puerto Nuevo lobster tacos.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My wife, Yasmin Viotto