I am excited to introduce our readers to amazing and caring people who live, work, play and do business in our community and city. Learning about people of all lifestyles, talents, and personalities who I think would be interesting for our readers to enjoy. San Diego has a wonderful diversity of individuals that make our slice of paradise the greatest place to live and enjoy each other’s uniqueness.
I am so blessed by the many friends I have in my life; each one has a special place in my heart. I was brought up to see the good in everyone, so when I am fortunate to find those individuals in my life, I cherish them as my own family. Luck so has it I have a handful of such friends, but I want to tell you about a very special straight man who has a huge compassionate heart, full of so much love and totally does care for his fellow human beings. I met Johan Engman about twelve years ago when he opened his second Fig Tree Cafe in Hillcrest. Even on that first meeting I learned about his big heart, a mutual friend Wally Schlotter introduced us. Johan had a burrito on his menu named after my dear friend Rob Benzon who we lost in a drowning accident in Acapulco, many years ago. When ordered every cent would go back to the Rob Benzon Foundation. Johan is a very smart, good looking, kind, caring, and loving person. This is a man who has incredible love for his beautiful wife and children, he cares for his community, and loves living his life to the fullest. It is my pleasure to once again reintroduce to you my wonderful friend and brother, the Heart of San Diego, Johan Engman. If you have never eaten at Fig Tree or Breakfast Republic, you need to treat yourself. Johan’s list of restaurants keeps growing and you can find them on the website under: https://riseandshinerg.com/
How did you end up in San Diego and what do you love about it?
I was born and raised in Östersund, Sweden before moving to San Diego in 1997 at the age of 16. One year later, I moved out on my own while still in high school, working nights as a dishwasher to pay rent. I was promoted to busser, then server, and continued working at multiple restaurants throughout San Diego until I was 25. Realizing my passion for the industry, I gave himself two years to save money to open my own restaurant.
On October 9th, 2008, I opened Fig Tree Cafe in Pacific Beach on a shoestring budget of $45,000. After three months of losing money, I was faced with a tough decision. To close the restaurant and make some drastic changes to my life, or somehow produce a way to keep the doors open. Many people suggested that I close the place down. “The economy is terrible Johan, nobody will blame you for closing,” they’d say. Due to my stubbornness and determination, I decided that under no circumstances would I throw in the towel. I limited the hours of operation for the restaurant as much as possible and finagled my way into a full-time job in the accounting department of a pharmaceutical company (long story on how I managed to pull that off without any experience). I managed to pay personal bills and offset the losses of the restaurant for three years after opening, until the restaurant finally turned a profit. In 2011, I left my corporate job and opened Fig Tree Cafe’s second location.
I love San Diego because it has everything: Beaches, urban life, restaurants, 2 hours to mountains and skiing, desert, close to Mexico and LA. Great weather!
What gets you most excited about life?
My family and traveling. I have two kids, River, 3.5 years old, and Sienna, 1.5 years old, with my amazing wife and best friend Yasmin.
I’m a Bonafede travel junkie, I can’t get enough of it. I’ve been to about 80 countries and love seeing and experiencing new countries and cultures.
In your professional life what makes your business stand out and how has it changed your life?
My biggest focus has always been on our core values. It is and has always been important to me to do things certain ways, to treat people the way you want to be treated and try to make the world a better place if even just a little bit. We focus our hiring on core values, ensuring that the individuals we hire resonate with values such as being humble, having an ownership mentality, being resilient, among a few others.
In one or two sentences: “How would friends describe you”?
He loves life, he loves and adores his family. Any opportunity to travel and see a new place he takes it.
What or Who really makes you laugh and why?
Conan O’Brien, Norm McDonald, and the combination of the two in interviews (Conan has done) over the years.
Who inspires you in life to do your very best and why?
Marcus Aurelius. He was a Roman emperor and stoic philosopher. His writings and philosophies are great.
If you could witness any event of the past, present, or future, what would it be and why?
Hmmm, this is a tough one. There are so many… The signing of the US constitution, having a conversation with Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, or Seneca.
If you could give someone advice about your art, hobby, or business, what would you tell them?
Do what you are passionate about. Always treat people with respect and dignity. Don’t do something with the main objective being to make money, do something that you are passionate about, and the money will come. When in doubt, do something nice for someone else (it will come back to you tenfold).
What are the top five valves you live by?
1. Treat people the way you want to be treated
2. Be humble. Note on this: Being humble is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.
3. Be resilient, don’t give up, push through your comfort zone. Believe in yourself (because if you don’t, why should someone else?)
4. Don’t let things you can’t control, control you. In other words, don’t let things outside of your control make you upset or ruin your day because you can’t do anything about it.
5. “Amor Fati”; like number 4… Amor Fati is a Latin phrase that may be translated as “love of fate” or “love of one’s fate”. It is used to describe an attitude in which one sees everything that happens in one’s life, including suffering and loss, as good or, at the very least, necessary.
Gratitude is so important in each of our lives, what are you most grateful for, and how do you pay it forward?
I’m immensely grateful for my family, our health and having been lucky enough to be born in a free country. I try to be kind, treat others with respect and not live in a bubble (realizing that we have it very, very good in the US).
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