Icelandic baker in Prague: “I want to make this place a little bit better.”

Davíd Arnórsson, photo: Ruth Fraňková

Icelander Davíd Arnórsson has been a baker all his life. He ran a successful bakery in Iceland, but always dreamt of setting up a business abroad. Two years ago, he moved to the Czech Republic, opening a bakery called Arctic Bakehouse at Prague’s Újezd, together with his friend and business partner, Gudbjartur Gudbjartsson. Their sourdough breads and Nordic pastries became an instant hit with both the locals and tourists.

Davíd Arnórsson,  photo: Ruth Fraňková

Photo: Archive of the Arctic Bakehouse
I met with Davíd Arnórsson at their new branch in Myslíkova Street, which is to open in just a few days’ time and I started by asking him why he decided to leave his successful business in Iceland and start from scratch in Prague:

“I have been a baker since I was about thirteen. It is the only profession I have ever done in my life and I am 40 years old now. So I am quite experienced.

“I set up a business in Iceland, but in my heart I always wanted to get abroad, to some nice city. And when you have dream, it keeps bothering you if you don’t follow it.

“So me and Gudbajrtur, we had a little business in Iceland and we got the idea to start something in Prague. Of course I had to like the city to be able to live there.

“So I came for a visit for a week and on the second day, we decided to do it. So that’s the reason. I fell so deeply in love with the city that it was a no-brainer for me.”

Why did you choose Prague, of all places?

“When I was travelling, I was always open-minded for this idea. It was something special, it is hard to explain. It was just a feeling. And when you let your heart control you a little bit, amazing things can happen.

Photo: Archive of the Arctic Bakehouse
“My business partner, Gudbjartur, has already been living here and we wanted to start something together and it clicked really well.

“So we took one year for preparation and then we opened up the shop. And we have been open for two year now and I am stunned.

“I am really humble about how people are taking us, both personally and professionally. It has been perfect.”

What was your impression of the city when you first arrived here?

“To be honest, it took me a little bit longer to get to know the people, but when you get to know them, they are the best. Of course I have a lot of Czech friends now, and all my regular customers are also my friends, so I am really fortunate.”

You established your bakery nearly two years ago. What are some of your bestsellers among your Czech customers?

“We do have traditional Icelandic pastries, but they are influenced by many countries. What you cee in Arctic baker is basically the recipes I have been developing in my head.

Photo: Archive of the Arctic Bakehouse
“I would say Czech people like croissants and the best-selling bread I called Arctic Monk.”

You breads are not the cheapest ones. Are Czech customers willing to pay extra for quality?

“Yes, when you a look at how many customers we have. When we opened up the door, it’ been like busy from day one.

“People all around the world are willing to pay for high quality. They think about their health and about what they put inside their body.

“I totally agree that we don’t save money when it comes to that. We should save it somewhere else.

“That was one of the reasons give Czech people opportunity to get high quality standards in this field. I didn’t come to live in the city to do nothing. I wanted to make it a little bit better. And I hope I have been doing that.”

As a baker, what do you think about traditional Czech pastry and about Czech cuisine in general?

“I didn’t come to live in the city to do nothing. I wanted to make it a little bit better.”

“As long it is done in high standards, I like it. I promised myself that I am going to dive deep into it and maybe try to make it even a little bit better.

“Never say never. Maybe I will have some traditional Czech things going on in my bakery. But I have to understand it. It is fun to take on a different tradition and try to add your own touch to it. I am really impressed.”

Photo: Archive of the Arctic Bakehouse
And what is your favourite Czech dish?

“That’s a tough question. I guess everything that involves meat. When it comes to Czech cuisine, I usually go for pork.”

As you said, Czechs tend to be a bit reserved and less open. Do you see any similarities between Czechs and Icelanders?

“I would say no. There are of course some Czechs that remind me of my Icelandic friends but when you come from a country like Iceland, where everyone is open, and you suddenly find yourself in a different culture, it takes you some time to get used to it.

“I am really enjoying meeting Czech people. I still have some difficulties because of my Czech language skills. I promised myself I would speak better by now, but I have been too busy to learn.

“I know that when my language skills improve, I can form even deeper connections.”

Do you still feel like as a visitor in this country or do you regard it as your second home?

“This is my home now, that’s how I feel when I am travelling back and forth from Iceland. I decided, from day one, to live here.”

“This is my home now. That’s how I feel when I am travelling back and forth from Iceland to here. I decided, from day one, to live here.

“Of course that at the beginning, people treated me like a foreigner and a tourist, but the only feeling that I have now is that I am one of you guys.

“It’s an amazing feeling and it makes it much easier for me to be here. So I don’t feel like a foreigner at all.”

Photo: Archive of the Arctic Bakehouse
Was it difficult in terms of bureaucracy to set up a business in the Czech Republic?

“I would say it was difficult mainly due to the language barrier. Afterwards, we would always say: What were we thinking, coming to Prague from Iceland? This is crazy. But we both believed it was going to work. So we did have some difficulties, but it was because were doing it for the first time.

“We are actually doing it again now, but we already know where to go and we have people who are assisting us now. So we are learning how Czech people do this and it’s not so difficult anymore.”

What are the things you miss most from home?

“That would definitely be the sea. I cannot see it from here. In Iceland you can see it everywhere.”

And what do you look forward to when you are returning to Prague from Iceland?

“My friends, my company and my work. Because it is not just work, it’s a passion, it’s my hobby, it’s my everything. So it would definitely be my friends and my company.”

Davíd Arnórsson,  photo: Ruth Fraňková