Café Smörgås in Sanur: From a Swedish dream to a Balinese reality

Photo: Café Smörgås

In the heart of the tranquil beach town of Sanur, Bali, is a charming café named Café Smörgås.

Founded in 2006 by Swedish Johan and Lotta Lassesson, the Scandinavian sounded café, started from a desire to have a place where it was possible to get a decent coffee and a sandwich in Sanur. It has later become a beloved spot for locals, tourists, and expats alike.

Photo: Miabell Mallikka
Just wanted a decent coffee and a sandwich

“We simply started the place because there was nowhere to find coffee and a sandwich. Back then, only one place served that, but it was a bit more exclusive, and we both missed just having a sandwich and a good cup of coffee,” Johan, who is now the solo owner, shares with a subtle smile.

Back in 2005, the family, was living in Stockholm, Sweden, when they first embarked on this journey. Their decision was spurred by a tragic event and a desire to live life to the fullest. After the sudden passing of Johan’s mother, they realized that life is short and decided to seize an opportunity that came their way.

“My mom suddenly passed away, which made me think that life can be short. Both me and Lotta had dreamed of living abroad for a while. So, we started looking for a project, and I found a hotel here in Bali, ready to take over,” Johan explains.

Photo: Johan Lassesson
Slowly it evolved

Their adventure thereby began with taking over a small hotel in Bali in 2005. A business they then expanded with Café Smörgås in 2006.

The café started modestly, meeting the basic needs of the customers. Over time, it has slowly evolved into the popular place it is today. Not just as a meeting point for locals and tourists, but as a caterer for several international schools in the area.

“A Swedish woman who had three kids attending the international school asked us, if we would consider delivering sandwiches and fresh salads to the school. There were five other vendors catering for the school at the time, but we quickly became the most popular one, so we took over the canteen. That was in 2007.”

Today, Smörgås still deliver lunch to three international schools in the area.

An international love for Swedish meatballs

The journey was not without challenges. Adapting to local regulations and navigating the complexities of licenses and The journey was not without challenges. Adapting to local regulations and navigating the complexities of licenses and permits has been a test, Johan admits, but still they persevered.

The café’s popularity grew, and the menu was expanded. Mainly to accommodate the many tourists, but also to serve the numerous local guests, and to celebrate their Scandinavian roots.

“We have Scandinavians coming here, but they’re not the biggest clientele. Our main clientele is probably the local Balinese. We also have a lot of tourists and expats from around the world, but we are quite popular among the locals. Especially our Swedish meatballs. That is our bestseller,” Johan tells with a grin.

Photo: Café Smörgås
Tourist dictates the menu

But the menu at Café Smörgås reflects not just the culinary preferences of the founders. It also caters to the diverse tastes of the visitors.

“We have to offer a wide selection due to the tourists. Especially if they bring their kids, then they want options. Our second most sold dish is Nasi Goreng. That one is only bought by tourists. The locals come here for the meatballs. A lot of people come for the Swedish meatballs,” Johan adds.

With an Indonesian chef trained in Sweden, the preparation of the carefully selected Swedish dishes, brings the guests an authentic Scandinavian experience.

Photo: Miabell Mallikka
All in or all out

What sets Café Smörgås apart is not just the Swedish food on the menu, or the Scandinavian inspired décor. It’s the spirit with which the place was created.

The Lassesson’s bold decision to uproot their lives and fully immerse themselves in this venture embodies the spirit of the café. Their commitment, dedication, and willingness to embrace the Balinese way of life is a story of the European dream coming true.

“I have met many Swedish people and families here who have tried to do the same thing. They uproot their life and move to Bali, but most of them fail,” Johan shares.

Johan tells how these people would make half-hearted attempts to migrate, and how everyone who failed was those who left something behind.

“Maybe they kept an apartment, or a house. Maybe they still had kids back in Sweden. We chose a different path. We sold everything we had and went for it.”

The beginning was tough. Financial struggles stretched five years. Yet, in Bali, they discovered a different way of life. In Sweden, days were filled with endless work, leaving no room for yourself. But in Bali, time expanded. Help was affordable, allowing them to cherish moments together. The rhythm on the island seemed more harmonious making it worth the initial struggles.

“We struggled the first five years financially, because it’s always difficult to start a business. It takes time to grow. But life is just much more convenient here, so we still decided to stay and make it work. And we are both glad we did.”

Photo: Staff at Café Smörgås

About Miabell Mallikka

Miabell Mallikka is a journalist working with ScandAsia at the headquarters in Bangkok.

View all posts by Miabell Mallikka

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