The Norwegian café founder Tiril Refsum established the successful raw food café named ‘Oslo Raw Cafe’ when she was only 24 years old. Cakes and raw food turned out to be her mental and physical rescue. Six years later, the young entrepreneur passionately continues fighting for other people’s mental and physical health.
Oslo Raw Cafe, one of Oslo’s most popular raw food cafés, was established in 2016 by Tiril Refsum (30). Today she has become a power woman running two cafés and being the author of two cookbooks. But her story was not always an adventure.
Once upon a time… let us time travel:
– I was in a profound crisis ten years ago, so taking care of my body became important. One thing is the soul and the emotions, but the body and food also go hand in hand with self-development, says Tiril Refsum.
The coffee grinder in the elegant Frogner café in Oslo, which reminds more of a Parisian coffee shop due to its feminine touches and flowers, runs at total capacity while the guests chatter. It is getting closer to lunchtime, and a hectic atmosphere.
– I wanted to be perfect, to be seen by others, and gain recognition by being good at absolutely everything, she continues.
Tiril remembers those days clearly. With an excellent average mark from Upper Secondary School, she gets quickly into the prestigious journalism studies in Volda in Norway. Her pursuit of perfectionism continues there as well, but not for long.
A few months later, the then 19-year-old Refsum collapses. Everything goes black for half a year.
From having big plans in life, she quits her studies and puts her life on pause.
DARK PLACE IN LIFE
Eva: How did the Oslo Raw adventure start?
Tiril: Since I was a little girl, I dreamt about eating cakes for breakfast. Many years later, when I turned 19, I got burned out after years of pushing too hard due to little self-care. One day, I accidentally saw an ad for a raw food festival during that time, and without knowing too much about the concept, I decided to head there out of curiosity. Suddenly, I discovered the wonders of plant-based food and especially raw cakes. The dream of eating cake for breakfast became real. With raw food, one can make so many healthy sweet cakes!
I started cooking cakes and treats at home as a private hobby for some time. I developed my own recipes and invited friends and family over for a treat as I simply could not store all the cakes at home anymore. They loved the taste so much they suggested I should sell treats and cakes to local cafés in Oslo, which I eventually did.
I jumped on my bike and cycled all around the city of Oslo, offering my cakes to bakeries. The response I received was overwhelming. Bakeries that bought my raw food were sold out of cakes momentaneously! That planted a business idea, and I decided to open my first cafe. Luckily, I had relatives who could help me find a space for a coffee shop. In 2016 I opened my first cafe at Adamstuen in Oslo.
Pumped to try Tiril’s cakes? Tiril Refsum has included a list of recipes in her plant-based cookbook “Kakeboka“
In what way do you think cooking became your rescue, helping you out of a mental and physical hole?
Before I started Oslo Raw Cafe, I lacked drive and motivation. Quite frequently, I thought things were boring and dull. I longed for a project that could let my passion come through. That happened when I started Oslo Raw. Interestingly enough, I could feel how I got fulfilled with more energy. As I could give more to the community around me, I also thought I would become a better person. I think that was the key.
The passion and drive for the subject must come from the heart; you have to feel that you will do it no matter what.Tiril Refsum, CEO at OSLO RAW CAFÉ
THE PASSION THAT BURNS WITHIN YOUR SOUL
I can sense your passion for baking, which you turned into a profession. What kind of attitude do you think other people should have to their jobs?
Cooking was a way to get to know my own creativity. It started as a hobby I was simply drawn to. Some people love to knit. Others like to build boats, paint or give lectures. Everyone has something that gives them energy – and something that you want to do more of! That is what I experienced with cakes. But it was such a surreal idea to build a business around it that it took me a while to establish a company.
Are you interested in vegan food? “Kakeboka” by Tiril Refsum will learn you how to cook plant-based and high-class cakes and sweets
I understood one thing, though: The passion and drive for the subject must come from the heart; you have to feel that you will do it no matter what. Even if people did not eat my cakes, I would make them anyway at home. I just think it is fun. By having an attitude like this, you will hardly lose energy because the passion comes straight from you; it does not come from anyone else in a pushy, unnatural way.
NO BUSINESS PLAN. HELP?!
Oslo Raw became a success in record time. Yet, you did not have any previous business experience or a degree from University. How was your journey as a café founder in the very beginning?
I was 24 years old when I established the coffee shop. I had no education, and I did not follow any rules. Honestly, we did the opposite of everyone else, whoever starts a company. You should always start with a business plan, I hear people say …. I, on the other hand, had nothing. Although it is a threat to the business, the lack of a business plan gives you also the valuable advantage of being very creative. You start saying ‘yes’ to many things, and it gives you a sense of profit and life. Oslo Raw Café did not save on ingredients, we did not hold back on anything, and shortly we became very exclusive.
As a result, we managed to turn raw food from something alternative to something very trendy. Today it has become super popular! By not having a business plan, the business also learned to be flexible and free-spirited. And as the world is in a massive change, our experience has given us a significant advantage. We will keep turning around very fast and contribute with all the small and big parts that we see the world needs.
However, we have reached a point where the business can no longer keep going without a structure. We are expanding our cafes in the capital of Norway today, offering delivery of cakes to grocery stores and catering beyond Oslo. More than ever before, the structure and landing of a business plan will be vital for our further success. We are working on that now!
SUSTAINABILITY IS ALSO ABOUT MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH
Your café fits very well into the world’s thrive of becoming more sustainable. Oslo Raw is a green concept that focuses on raw, clean, organic and sustainable food and operation. Was going green your main focus?
No, not necessarily. I thought it was an exciting concept mainly because we did not have such a thing in Norway when I started. Vegan food was not necessarily remarkable in 2016, but I wanted to look at it as an exciting project and see if I could change people’s habits. How can I sustainably meet people’s needs? I always want everything to be experienced meaningfully. I want to turn people’s thoughts on how to eat, how the business can be run and create a cultural system that perhaps no one else has.
Also, for me, sustainability is all about people. They are the core of everything. Therefore, I always ask my employees: What can I do to help you? Who am I as a human being, a leader? My way of leading is mainly without any impulses of fear and hierarchy. As I see it, humans are also the definition of sustainability. Since I have experienced a mental breakdown, I want to help other people as much as possible. It is all about our customers and employees. That is its core, which comes before anything else on my sustainability list.
I want to trigger people and help them find out who they are and what they want to do. I want Oslo Raw Café to be where people meet, tell stories and become seen. We are not meant to be alone. Everyone seeks to be loved, seen and appreciated. That is the core of Oslo Raw.
Are you interested in vegan food? Do you want to make sweets without the white sugar, gluten-free and vegan-friendly? Try out these recipes!
FULL OF LOVE
Tiril smiles and takes one last sip of her cappuccino while clearly enjoying customers’ chatters in the room. Happy voices are smoothly mixing with a fun romantic French tune.
Suddenly I find myself humming La la laaa silently… Now smiling myself, wishing more coffee shops would be like Tiril’s: Full of love and care.