When was the last time you intentionally took a break during the day? Fika Bakery & Coffee in Three Lakes gets its name from the traditional Swedish coffee break known as fika and the woman behind it thinks you should take more of them.
Mackenzie Martin continues our We Live Up Here series this week with the story.
Coffee breaks are and have always been an important part of life in many countries. In the U.S., we often use coffee as a stimulant to get us going in the morning or to refuel us midday.
In Sweden however, their coffee break, known as Fika, is a lot more about slowing down and taking an actual break.
In Three Lakes there is a bakery and coffee shop called Fika that is the embodiment of this Swedish concept. If you ever go into their location downtown, one of the first people you might meet is Cecily Sharpe. She’s only five years old, but she told me her job title was President of Customer Relations. She says Fika exists because “mom just needed a bakery.”
Fika Bakery & Coffee is mainly the creation of Jacqui Sharpe. She and her husband, Brandon, have lived up north for over eight years now, and they started Fika in the summer of 2017.
“So I am 1/4 Swedish. My grandma is 100% Swedish,” says Sharpe. “You never really would’ve known that in my house growing up. But every once in awhile my grandma would pull out like, ‘I want to eat herring in cream sauce!’ and we’d all look at her like she was crazy, but it’s Swedish.”
Fika gets their coffee roasted on Lake Superior by Fika Coffee, though there’s no relationship between the two businesses other than that they share the same name. Sharpe says the coffee is generally roasted on a Tuesday and then they’re brewing it by Friday or Saturday. Sharpe is clear though that at Fika, they take the baked goods just as seriously as the coffee.
“A few years ago, I started researching the baking traditions of each nationality that I am,” she says. “I’m French, but it’s way too fussy. That’s pastry school. Delicious, but fussy. I’m Irish. You know, we make soda bread. And there are potatoes.”
Then she hit on Fika, the traditional Swedish coffee break.
“It’s really like a social institution in Sweden,” she say. “It’s just much more than stopping for coffee on your way to work. It’s stopping intentionally in your day for coffee and usually a pastry and usually with friends. It’s a very deliberate pause to enjoy something, and I love that.”
In addition to the concept of Fika, Sharpe also loved the culture and traditions around baking in Sweden. Just like in the Northwoods, their winters are long and hard, but they embrace the winter and make do with the local produce they have. Sharpe wanted to do the same thing at Fika.
“Except for lemons, which come from my mother-in-law’s backyard in California, all of my produce is local and almost entirely organic,” says Sharpe. “So it’s been great to spotlight our different growers and also to stretch myself to use those different ingredients.”
She says she enjoys the challenge of being creative with rhubarb and cranberries, but she says their menu often surprises people.
“It’s definitely not what people expect when they walk into a bakery,” she says. “Like you want to just see a blueberry muffin all of the time. We will only have a blueberry muffin for a few weeks in August, when I can get my blueberries from Sugar Camp. So it’s been a really interesting experiment these first few years, figuring out what I’m going to do every new season with every new crop.”
When there’s less local produce—like right now—Sharpe produces about 85% traditional Swedish baked goods, a lot of which incorporate the spice cardamom. Through March at Fika they have the Swedish delicacy Semla, which is traditionally eaten around Fat Tuesday. It’s a cardamom bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream.
Their menu is always changing, though. They’re also featuring chocolate truffles and heart shaped cookies ahead of Valentine’s Day right now.
As far as Swedish drinks go, they use Swedish oat milk as a dairy alternative and in the spring, they make a Swedish rhubarb cordial that’s somewhere in between bitter and sweet, served sparkling or flat.
Jacqui Sharpe and her husband, Brandon, moved back up north over eight years ago because they fell in love with the slower pace of life in the Northwoods. They’re happy that at least for the Three Lakes area, they can offer a morning or late night spot for people to gather, relax, and take a break together.
“It’s fun to watch people come out of the woodwork, out of their house alone in the woods, and come together and meet here,” she says. “A couple of people have moved up here in the past few years and said, ‘I know there have to be more people up here, but where are they?’”
She says they have a lot of different groups that meet there. The night I visited, there was a book club.
“That general feeling of just coming together and being cozy and getting your cup of coffee and your treat at night helps get us through this winter season,” she says. “It’s been neat to see people meet in our space and have a little bit of fika together.”
For more information on Fika Coffee & Bakery, find them on Facebook or visit them in downtown Three Lakes.
This story is part of our We Live Up Here series, where we tell the stories of the people and culture of northern Wisconsin. Music for this story came from Blue Dot Sessions: Brass Buttons by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue).
This story was funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.