Mindanaoan-owned Sushi bar in Sweden

GOTHENBURG, Sweden – Sushi bars have found a niche in Scandinavia. In the city of Gothenburg, there are three Sushi bars in the downtown area, and one of the most popular is “Chopstix” owned by a Filipino from Camiguin.

Wendel “Bong” Lopez grew up in Barangay Cantaan of Guinsiliban, a sixth class and smallest town in Mindanao’s smallest island province of Camiguin to a humble family. He finished BSMT at the Southern Philippines College in Cagayan de Oro City and was a working student at a law office to sustain his personal needs.

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He sought to provide for his family in Camiguin even as a young boy. He started working as a seaman on an international cargo ship for some 10 years. In one of his ports of call in Sweden, he met and fell in love with a Filipina who was raised in Sweden. In no time, Bong and Leonora decided to tie the knot and settle in Gothenburg. They have a daughter Wendee, 19, who has started helping them this summer while waiting for university to begin.Bong said that in the first year of an immigrant’s arrival, the Swedish government provides free training on the Swedish language and culture. This also includes a training on a possible technical skill that will enable one to find a job. This training is under the Swedish for Immigrants Language Course.Bong decided to take up culinary arts as this was one of his passions apart from the fact that he was confident of his skill as cook. As soon as he finished the course, he worked for six months at the Saab Personal Restaurant, a restaurant owned by the car manufacturing plant which has unfortunately closed in the late 1990s.

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It was not a smooth ride for Bong in the restaurant business. After two and a half years working in other restaurants, he decided to put up his own specialty bar and found a partner to lighten the cost of doing business. It was a great challenge to sustain the business but he was able to get a lease for a year and was hard working enough to buy off the rights from his partner.

This year he has expanded to a busy street near Slottskogen, an area in the downtown area that is also close to the old part of Gothenburg where specialty shops are located.

It has been a lucrative business and it has been a good one for him.

The restaurant is unpretentious with its simple furnishings and logo that one would miss it easily. But this is hardly the case as Bong said his loyal patrons have consistently brought new converts to his place.

Chopstix Sushi Bar is one of the enduring bars at the Avenin commercial district in downtown Gothenburg. Many of his neighbors have either closed shop or transferred elsewhere in town over the past years.

With the start of school just a week away, he is expecting a line of students who get a discount or rabattt from his bar.

Bong’s secret

He is a very engaging person and his amiable personality could be one of the reasons why his customers keep coming.

“Everything that I prepare is fresh – that is my secret, and of course, hard work,” he said.

Now on his 15th year in business, Bong continues to improve his bar and food service. He has hired three personnel to help him and he said there is never a dull moment in both bars.

Back home, he still continues to help his family in some ways.

“I am not saying I will close my doors on going back to the ship,” Bong said, but as of now, running the bar is what fills his days. His many projects in Cagayan de Oro City is also a challenge that he wants to pursue in the coming years.

Great sushi

Watching Bong deftly roll the sushi mat is a sight to see. He is fast and thorough as he preps and slices the sushi.

He makes salmon, avocado, omelette, tuna, crab stick, shrimp, and squid on a special concoction of steamed rice which clients can’t resist. His side dishes come from reliable suppliers that have consistently provided him with the best in the market.

Bong is also exploring various ways to plate his sushi for celebrations like birthdays, Christmas and other special occasions.

He has definitely come a long way from Camiguin and has become an entrepreneur in his own right but Bong’s feet is still firmly planted on the ground.

Posted in Lifestyle