Interview with Robert Sandqvist, Lilla Örebro

Robert Sandqvist is a really good example of the fact that craft cocktails are slowly spreading outside the big cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg. Robert runs a successful hospitality business in Örebro, about 200 km west of Stockholm, and in addition to keeping himself busy with bar empire, he also had the time to write a book on rum and participating in a bunch of cocktail competitions around Sweden. This weekend you can find him in Stockholm, competing in the Swedish final of Diplomático World Tournament 2017.

Photo: Richard Ström
What made you pursue a career in hospitality and how did you get your first bartender job?

In the year of 1996 I was living in Östersund and worked in a hotel as a dishwasher and breakfast chef. After a really messy period in my life I made a desperate attempt to get my life together and start a new chapter in my life. I applied for a bunch of bartender schools in all of Sweden. I got right in a course in Örebro, so I moved right away.

My first real bartender job was at several places in Örebro like Sombrero, Royal Arms and Loftet where I work extra.

Where are you originally from, and how did you end up opening Lilla & Stora Örebro?

I´m born in Östersund and I grew up in Jämtland in the north of Sweden. I moved to Örebro in 1998.

I worked at several places in Örebro and also in a winter resort called Åre at "Dippan" & Åregården, Bakfickan & Country Club. After chasing a full time bartender job I finally got one in Örebro. At a placed called Royal Arms. I worked there for 4 years and also became in charge of the bar. In the year of 2005 I got a question from Niklas Myrstad, a guy that works at Björnstugan, a restaurant and nightclub. They wanted me to start a cocktail bar in the newly built restaurant. I worked there for 3 magical years. At that time, my current partner Davide Lindqvist and I found a little place in the heart of Örebro. That little place became Lilla Örebro in 2008, 3 years later we opened Stora Örebro and in the year 2015 we opened Gamla Örebro.

How did you get the nickname RomRobban?

After all my nagging and talking about rum, the bar was starting to be filled with lots of different rums. So both guests and staff started to call me RomRobban. But it became official when I was in bed after a knee surgery. A member of the staff called Emma, fixed me a blog so that I had something to do in bed. That's when romrobban.blogg.se started.

Can you describe the current cocktail concepts at Lilla & Stora Örebro and the story behind them?

My goal was that the citizens of Örebro should appreciate a well made cocktail. In the beginning Mojitios, Daiquiris, Pornostars, Rasperry Fudge were the drinks that worked best.

I aimed to win the trust of people in Örebro so I could sneak in everything from bitters and twists of classics drinks. I´ve achieved that but it has taken a long time.

When we opened Stora Örebro we had about 1000 people visiting us on Fridays and Saturdays.

Then the challenge was to adapt the drink menu so we both could work fast and still make great cocktails. I think we accomplished that and all the hard work we put has given us a respected name in as well as outside of Örebro.

We look for inspiration in the swedish bar scene, the food scene and the rest of the world.

Rum has also a big part of our concept and we have one of the finest rum collections in the bar.

Photo: Richard Ström
Which place/places has/have been most important regarding your knowledge and skills?

My old bar teacher Monuir Attia made me believe in myself. The seasons up north in Åre has helped gain my speed and tempo. My work at Royal Arms help me understand responsibility. Björnstugan gave me the chance to develop so I want to thank Niklas, Jerker, Christina & Anders. Then I have role models who I look up to, who means a lot for my development. Björn Kjellberg & Team Bottles, Andreas Bergman #meraromänromrobban & the Tjoget gang, Marie Laveau & LQ med Andrea & the gang, Johan Sjödin, Johan Evers, Emil Åreng. And I have to mention all the suppliers with whom I'm constantly working with cocktails and chasing new rum types.

Which is your favourite and least favourite drink to make and why?

I always try to serve what the guest wants. It´s my job to satisfied the guest, not my ego.

How would you describe the perfect customer?

A happy and conscious guest that drinks rum.

What's the weirdest drink order you've gotten?

A drink called Stark Bailey's which contains Jägermeister, vodka and whipped cream.

What do you like most about your job?

My job is my life and I feel great.

Do you have any special bartending skills you're extra proud of?

Nothing special, but I know a little about rum!

How do you spend your spare time?

I exercise, hang out with my partner and our two cats Mojito & Caipirinha.

What do you drink when off duty?

Protein shakes and rom, rhum, ron and finally rum.

What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?

Hm, what don't I have? ;)

Photo: Richard Ström
What upcoming cocktail trends do you think we can expect in the near future?

Food and cocktails together, Classics with twists, infusions and all its kinds. But I think the person who has the biggest imagination is gonna keep the trend going.

Which are your favourite bars/bartenders around the world and why?

In Örebro mostly at Bishop's Arms for a potato pancake and a Guinness. In Stockholm I often return to Tweed, Tjoget, Little Quarter & Paradiso. When I visit NY I go to Madde Rapp at the Dead Rabbit, The Rum house, Death & co.

In your opinion, how does the bar scene in Örebro compare to the rest of Sweden and internationally?

Örebro is a small city so it´s harder to get a cocktail flow on weekdays, but we are doing our part and slowly things are starting to happen. Örebro is growing fast and lots of new places are opening and everybody inspire each other. Sweden has a really good bar scene and we can proudly say that we have plenty of world class bartenders.

What are your thoughts regarding cocktail competitions?

I really like to compete, sometimes it´s a good setup and sometimes it´s bad. If you don´t like it, don´t participate. Heads up to Hernö cocktail awards 2016 (in the woods).

Photo: Richard Ström
How do you come up with new cocktail recipes and what inspires you?

I have a childish mind and lively fantasy. So together with my wing man Joel we look for help and inspiration from Davide and Johan in the kitchen. We had something that we called the ”Cocktail experimant” every Friday at Stora Örebro. 4 new cocktails every time that we tested live and our creative minds had to work a lot. Nowdays we have 4 cocktails every month besides our regular list.

Which of your signature drinks, if any, and what else in your career are you most proud of so far?

Cinema Daiquiri - Bacardi Heritage , Coca-Cola & butter popcorn syrup, lime and a rim of butter popcorn and sea salt.

I'm living the dream! I created my own bar that I wanted to have, and it later became two and also three bars. I want to add that we sold Stora örebro in december 2016 after five years. And now our plan is to invest more in quality at Lilla Örebro.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

In a new rum book, at the top of the swedish bar scene and hopefully at the BCA scene.

Would you like to share one of your own recipes?

Cinema Daiquiri
50 ml Bacardi Heritage
20 ml Coca-Cola & butter popcorn syrup
30 ml lime juice
Rim of butter popcorn & sea salt on the rim of the glass

Everything in one shaker, rim one coupette glass with butter popcorn & sea salt. Shake, double strain into the coupette.

"It's like a better movie"

Best regards,
#romrobban

Photo: Richard Ström

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