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A life adventure she hadn’t expected

After living and working 22 years in China, Eva Molina Biörck has learnt both how to set up successful companies and close down businesses. Today, she focuses on developing and expanding the healthy food restaurant chain, Moka Bros, which already has seven locations in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu.

TEXT: Jan Hökerberg
PHOTO: MOOI Studio
15 JUNE, 2018

Today, more and more young Swedes are moving to China to either study, be part of an entrepreneurial company or simply just taking the chance and looking for opportunities when they are there.

Twenty-two years ago this wasn’t common at all, but one who took the chance at that time was Eva Molina Biörck, who, in 1996, when she had just graduated from Stockholm University, decided to pack her bags to go to China to find a job.

“It was a dream come true when I soon could get a position with Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) in Beijing. It was the perfect start and it connected me with both worlds immediately,” she says.

After seven years with SAS as sales representative and sales manager she decided to leave the airline to focus on her own startup.

“Working for SAS was a true pleasure and a great learning platform. The organisational culture was inspiring and positive. However, I wanted to create something of my own. The travels to different Asian countries combined with visiting local antique markets made me think of producing own interior design objects. My best friend, India Chang, shared this passion and together we started Chang & Biörck. We had the amazing opportunity to work with some of Scandinavia’s best-known designers and we opened a store in Beijing,” says Molina Biörck.

20+

The number of Moka Bros locations that Eva Molina Biörck and her partners plan to have in place within five years.

She was born in 1970 in Sydney, Australia, where her father, who was an engineer, worked at that time. As very young she also spent some time in the US before moving back to the city of Falun in Sweden where she grew up. After finishing upper secondary school, she took a couple of courses in social and political science at Stockholm University, until she found their East Asian studies programme.

“It intrigued me as it was about something unknown to me at the time. It seemed like a great adventure, so I applied and was accepted. I had a romantic view of China from a novel I’ve read from my grandma’s library that changed abruptly when I first visited 1991. Quite innocently and ignorantly I thought China would look like the Forbidden City. But it didn’t disappoint me, instead it took me on a life adventure I hadn’t expected,” she says.

In Beijing in 2007, she met her future husband, Alex Molina, a Colombian who worked in the food and beverages (F&B) industry and had come to China in 2006 for consulting work at a restaurant. They got married in 2008 and the couple have a daughter, Edda, who is eight years old today, and two three-year old twin boys, Dante and Milo.

“Soon after we met, we talked about opening our own restaurant in Beijing,” says Molina Biörck. “At that time, there were only a few options in casual fine dining so there was a market and a need. There was almost nothing in-between high-end dining and fast-service Pizza Hut type of eateries, so it was really the perfect moment. We wrote a business plan and looked for investment and within six months we opened Mosto. That was in the midst of the 2008 Olympics and it was very challenging as there were many restrictions at the time. In August this year, Mosto will be celebrating its 10th anniversary.”

Eva Molina Biörck and her husband Alex are focusing on expanding the Moka Bros restaurant concept.

Being more and more engaged in the restaurant business, Molina Biörck found it difficult to concentrate on developing Chang & Biörck at the same time and, in 2013, when her interior design partners had left China they decided to transfer the firm to a long-time Chinese colleague who still runs it.

After successfully establishing Mosto, the three owners – Molina Biörck as business developer, her husband Alex as general manager and sommelier, and the Venezuelan chef Daniel Urdaneta – wanted to try another restaurant concept. In 2010, they opened Modo, an urban deli concept of small dishes to share, and in 2013 they launched Moka Bros, a concept based on healthy eating.

“With Moka Bros we introduced the term ‘power bowls’ in China – healthy bowls with bases such as brown and black rice, salads and different toppings. But we also serve waffles, ice cream, desserts and drinks and Moka Bros can easily transform from a healthy lunch meeting space to a happening hangout spot,” says Molina Biörck.

With the birth of Moka Bros, many of the customers who used to frequent Modo migrated to the new and popular restaurant. After five years’ experience in the F&B industry, Biörck Molina had learnt that a fast reaction is sometimes the most important in China, so she decided to close Modo and focus her attention on the new restaurant.

“Moka Bros has turned out to be a welcome concept. It is the brand we are now focusing on to develop. We have five restaurants in Beijing, located in Sanlitun, Solana, The Place, Joy City Xidan and our most recent addition in Shuangjing. We have one location in Shanghai (K Wah Centre) as well as one in Chengdu (Taikoo Li) and we are looking to grow in these markets. We are also thinking of expanding to Hong Kong,” says Molina Biörck.

“Our plan is to open two or three new Moka Bros restaurants per year within the next five years. We always strive to reinvent our concepts and stay current. Not being afraid of change,” she adds.

Moka Bros can easily transform from a healthy lunch meeting space to a happening hangout spot.”

Advice to young entrepreneurs

After living 22 years in China and having established a number of startups, Eva Molina Biörck shares some of her experiences as advice to today’s young entrepreneurs:

  • Setting up a shareholder agreement between partners really saves a lot of potential trouble and misery.
  • Make sure you are on the right side of the law in terms of labour contracts, fire, hygiene and environmental license.
  • Set short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. It really helps to prioritise your work.
  • Always review and refine your standard operation procedures, but make the changes swiftly and move on. Don’t get stuck in processes and administration.
  • Employ people that fit your organisation in spirit as well as merit. I would say, surround yourself with doers.
  • Do not over-analyse decisions. It’s particularly difficult making decisions that will have a huge impact on your business. It might be the wrong decision, but then you change and you keep moving forward.
  • Have disciplined accounting practices and a solid financial plan in place. Cash flow and budget forecasting is key.
  • Keep on learning. Whatever field or discipline, it contributes to growth that inevitably will influence your business too.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of guanxi and losing face.
  • Don’t let yourself get side-tracked or insecure about other people’s opinions. Stay focused.
  • Finally, building your own business is challenging but it should make you happy. If the pressure is too hard and you lose the spirit it’s OK to stop. From failure comes new opportunities to grow.