We had the good fortune of connecting with Johan Engman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Johan, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I always wanted to work for myself and control my destiny. Although the risks are of course high, to me the risk/reward thought process made it obvious for me to pursue this path.
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 years old. 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 with 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 to 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 my 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. This is the “intro” to my professional career restaurateur. I opened the first Breakfast Republic location in 2015 and have since opened numerous more Breakfast Republic locations along with other restaurant brands. So it certainly wasn’t easy… far from it. There were many times in the early Fig Tree Cafe days where I questioned my own sanity by continuing to push forward, but of course I’m very happy I did. There are many lessons, the biggest one is probably to never give up, to keep on getting up no matter how many times you get knocked down. Believe in yourself.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
So much to do and see in San Diego! I would definitely take them to the beach, probably PB and also explore the Windansea area and go for a walk in La Jolla. We’d walk around Little Italy and stop for some sushi at Cloak and Petal, explore North Park and maybe have dinner at The Smoking Goat. The zoo is great, we’d go there and also walk around Balboa Park. I would also leave the city (and country) for a day or two day trip down to Valle de Guadalupe for some great food and wine and perhaps some tacos in Popotla Fishing Village
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I can’t thank my wife and mother enough. As a kid up until today my mother has always been in my corner and believed in me. Now, happily married with a son and daughter on the way my wife is truly my rock. Her unconditional support and love is amazing. Within our company, COO Cesar Garcia and CFO Sarah King are the tremendous foundation that holds us together as a company and carry us forward into the future. I could never ask for more loyal and dedicated partners than Cesar and Sarah. Lastly, Alex Sayanes has been an incredible friend and has done an outstanding job with our restaurant remodels and repairs throughout the years. Whenever there’s a deadline that seems to be impossible to meet Alex and his team somehow gets it done.