Launching integration in Sweden with Gastronaut
A new food app launched in Stockholm in January this year. It began with the idea of breaking down the barriers that prevent everyday people from making their home cooked meals available to the public. Stockholm Food Movement at Impact Hub Stockholm saw Co-founders Akis Palamidis and Shu Wei share with us the story that brought their business to life.
Working in Stockholm, Shu became incredibly frustrated with the lack of authentic Chinese food that was available. Being heavily involved with supply chain operations and business strategy with Ericsson for twelve years, he resigned to open his own Chinese restaurant. This was the turning point before the launch of Gastronaut.
Akis: “Shu asked me if I had tried real Chinese food. I had two thoughts. One was — ‘now that I think of it, I haven’t’ and ‘oh shit I have the same problem!”
“I’m from Greece. I’ve been been living abroad for more than ten years now. You go to a taverna and they just throw tzatziki on everything. That’s not the food that we cook at home. The problem that we’re trying to tackle is the sameness of the food landscape. If we take Chinese food for example, it’s the same food in every city around the world. There’s so much we’re missing out that we don’t see. It’s the same fried bananas and noodles and sweet and sour chicken. So we were wondering, where in Stockholm can we find real Greek food or Japanese food? Where can we find some real food? We realised that it’s all around us and we never taste it. It’s the people we know or meet or work with and we don’t get to taste their food. We don’t get to take part in that, so it became about solving how to get people who cook with people who want to eat.”
“The app in itself is not an innovation technologically. It’s a simple food app but the real magic is what happens behind the app.”
— Akis Palamidis
We’re presented with a question. “To open your own restaurant you need financial investment. They say it takes one thousand days — that’s three years just to cover your costs. Are you sure you want to do that?”
The beauty of freelancing through their app is you suddenly have the opportunity to try out a new lifestyle, a hobby-cum-profession, an uncertain passion; without having to drop your job, your security and everything you know. As a chef working with Sopköket, I can tell you straight up that the barriers for entry into the hospitality industry in Stockholm are high and he’s not wrong. Most new establishments close within the first three years of opening.
In a commercial environment, if job applicants can’t speak a common language, they don’t get hired. Gastronaut, on the other hand, has few barriers. You’ll need a kitchen, some cooking know-how and a smartphone, but little else stands in the way of anyone setting up shop online.
We’ve each heard countless stories of people from all professions, moving to Sweden and finding it impossible to get a job. “That’s something we want to take on further with other people who come from other countries that don’t know the language, don’t know the landscape and don’t have the connections that other people have,” says Akis. “We want to give them the opportunity to explore this option. It gives them the means to provide for their family.”
“We usually see immigrants as people who come to our country with needs. We only see people who need to take something from us, from this country. What we don’t see is what they have to offer. This (their food) happens everyday in their homes. Arabic kitchens are so rich and we only get a western adaptation of Arabic food in restaurants.“
Akis shows us a picture of Swedish writing scrawled onto the wall at the Tensta subway station. “The world has come to Sweden. We have a unique opportunity to enrich our culture, do something more interesting with our life, coming into contact with immigrants” he translates. “It doesn’t say we have to make friends or hang out everyday, it’s just contact, some basic interactions and get to know them. Get them to know us.”
There have been many initiatives popping up in Sweden that have been designed to improve integration from hosted dinner parties to RefugeeTech, but little in the way of allowing immigrants to bring their own culture to the table, so to speak. Gastronaut could be a game changer — providing the newly arrived with a method of earning an income and contributing to society, whilst providing services to bring international Stockholmers a little piece of home.
“We live in one of the most diverse cultures in the world and we want to see the segregation go away. We believe that empowering people to cook, to be on the supply side of things, it gives them a voice and it gives people an option. We actually see some of our chefs spreading their wings and maybe we’ll see a few of them opening their own restaurants. It seems like they’re going that way but only time will tell.”
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Stockholm Food Movement is a new initiative designed to bring education for sustainable development to the people of Stockholm. Our events aim to inspire the future leaders and changemakers of the food industry.