In Good Taste: The Viking And Mrs. Viking, Co-Founders, Viking Bageri
The Viking and Mrs. Viking have built a brand that's standing out solely on the strength of its offerings- which, in this case, is, quite simply, brilliantly baked bread.
This article is a part of In Good Taste, a special feature built for the August 2021 issue of Entrepreneur Middle East showcasing 10 of the UAE's most promising homegrown food brands.
At Entrepreneur Middle East, we have typically shied away from referring entrepreneurs with the pseudonyms or nicknames they’ve either taken on or been given through their respective business trajectories- but I’ve decided to make an exception in the case of the husband-and-wife duo behind Viking Bageri, the Dubai-based bakeshop whose signature French baguettes have become the talk of the town. And I am doing this to give due credit to the fact that The Viking and Mrs. Viking have built a brand that’s standing out solely on the strength of its offerings- which, in this case, is, quite simply, brilliantly baked bread. So, while you may not know the real names of The Viking and Mrs. Viking (which, by the way, are Magnus Ericsson and Maria Svedenhov), you’ll still have no qualms about swearing by the baguettes their bakery makes- and that’s definitely something worth applauding.
Viking Bageri started out amid the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 when Ericsson, who’s the COO of a hospital group in Ajman, found himself at home in Dubai on a weekend, wanting an escape from the busy nature of the work he was exposed to during the rest of the week. As someone who found the process of baking therapeutic in nature, Ericsson -who had grown up watching his father make bread every weekend at home in Sweden- ventured into this domain again in an attempt to de-stress. He set a goal for himself too- to make the one kind of bread his father hadn’t baked: the standard French baguette. “After having tried a few recipes, I found one that I started mixing with, changing the quantities, adding time, or trying another temperature of the water, and so on,” Ericsson recalls. “Being an engineer by trade, I found it quite rewarding to see what happened with the changes I made, and I had quite soon tried all the different flours I could find, as well as salt and yeast... so, yes, I was on my way.”
Source: Viking Bageri
The results of Ericsson’s efforts were beautiful, rustic-looking, golden-brown baguettes, with crispy crusts and airy centers, and they proved to be a definite hit- and it wasn’t just him and his family who were saying so. Neighbors who tried his baguettes were coming back to him asking for more, and Ericsson remembers a period when his wife, Svedenhov, and their children went to Sweden for a holiday, and he found himself baking every single day that fortnight to cater to the demand he was seeing for his bread. But it didn’t end there- they still wanted more. “Once they came back again, I said to my wife, ‘We have people ordering the bread... I’m not sure how to handle this,’” Ericsson recalls. “To which she answered: ‘Well, we’ll have to sort out a website, so people can order properly!’” And that essentially is the moment when Ericsson’s endeavors at home turned into the business that is Viking Bageri today.
The name of the enterprise came about pretty easily- Ericsson’s heritage and height (he’s 6”4’ tall) had already earned him the nickname of “The Viking” in his neighborhood, and bageri means “bakery” in Swedish. While Ericsson toiled in the kitchen making the best baguettes he possibly could, Svedenhov (aka Mrs. Viking) worked with their neighbor-cum- friend, Jennifer Bereza, on the other aspects of the business. “We were also able to get the packaging done right in a very early stage,” Ericsson recalls. “Initially I didn’t give it that much of a thought, but Maria and Jennifer tried different versions of kraft and white paper, until they settled for a bit more dense, white paper. The logo type and branding are the brainchildren of Jennifer, and with them sorted out, Maria stayed up into the wee morning hours hand stamping the papers and ribbons that we still, to this day, use for packaging our bread. The perfect bread demands the perfect packaging- and people deserve getting this special feeling of unwrapping a gift when they get our bread.”
Source: Viking Bageri
And their customers certainly seemed to be appreciating everything that Viking Bageri was doing, so much so that at one point, Ericsson and Svedenhov found themselves looking at orders for seven weeks into the future. “We understood then that this was more than a fling, and we started looking to find space in a bakery to allow us to grow,” Ericsson says.
“Somewhere around the same time, we registered the trade license, and signed a contract with the first bakery we were in.” But even as things started getting formalized for it as a business, the homely nature of Viking Bageri remained its main draw for its clientele. “I think that one of the major things that made us stand out was our contact with the customers,” Ericsson says. “For the initial six months (or more, actually), the bread was picked up by the customers, where they all got to meet Mrs. Viking. She knew most of them by first name, and she kept in contact with them throughout the weeks to send out reminders, checking that they still were buying their bread, writing small notes, and so on. This made our customers truly feel that we were a homegrown brand for real. She is still, to this day, involved on a daily basis with our customer relationship management and the back office- we now offer delivery, but many of our customers still get handwritten receipts and notes from Mrs. Viking.”
Source: Viking Bageri
It's thanks to such efforts that Viking Bageri can boast of growing organically as a business, with its marketing currently centered on just an Instagram page with a devoted following and a high level of interaction. The company also recently partnered up with the UAE-based KRUSH Brands (the owner and operator of F&B brands like Freedom Pizza, Wildflower Poke & More, Salad Jar, and others), with Ericsson saying the joint venture has helped his enterprise navigate the country’s F&B business ecosystem better. At the same time, the accolades for Viking Bageri have continued to pour in, be it with its inclusion in lists of the UAE’s best bakeries, or with the praise it has received from professional chefs.
“But just like William Blake wrote about how to “see a world in a grain of sand,” the true accomplishments can sometimes be the small ones,” Ericsson adds. “These include things like getting videos sent of children enjoying their first baguette, or overhearing people mentioning your brand and how they love your baguettes while you’re out shopping.” But Ericsson says that he remains adamant that all of this doesn’t take away from the singular mission with which he started on this endeavor in the first place. “We have, so far, focused on one thing and one thing only: baguettes,” Ericsson says. “That has allowed us to not settle for anything less than perfection. I started this journey trying to bake the best baguette in Dubai, and that goal still stands today.”
Viking Bageri co-founders Magnus Ericsson and Maria Svedenhov share their tips for wannabe entrepreneurs aiming to follow their lead.
1. Find a product that is unique. “Without a unique product, you will, for sure, struggle with differentiating your product from the others, and you will also have to put a lot of time, effort, and money into doing the same.”
2. Team up with a partner. “This will allow you to further focus on the result, rather than the paperwork needed to be able to release your product. Sure, you'll have to give away some equity, but if you haven't been in the business before, it's definitely worth it.”
3. Do something you like. “You will put in a lot of hours of work, late nights, and early mornings- so, it'd better be something you enjoy doing. I have been up at 2.30am almost every weekend during a full year to check that the quality is up to standard- but I still love baking baguettes.”
4. Work with good people. “Our team is not only me and Mrs. Viking- we also have a team of people that we are friends with, more so now after this journey than before, and surrounding ourselves with good people has been a clear success factor of our ride.”
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.