01403 878 026
01903 892 899


René Fay at Johansson’s Cafe, Horsham (©AAH/Alan Wright)

Published on 1st March 2024

René Fay was only a teenager when she set off from her home town of Orsa, Sweden on an intrepid European tour, riding a yellow bicycle. Since then, René has lived all over the world and is now settled in Horsham, where she owns Johansson’s Café in the Bishopric. 

However, Sweden remains close to her heart and inspires every aspect of the business. Hanging on the café wall are a pair of vintage wooden skis that Rene’s late father used during a 95km endurance skiing event in 1975. The certificate he received for completing the race is framed nearby, next to a photo of him ski jumping. Some of the café’s ceramics include pictures of the Dala horse, a traditional painted wooden statue of a horse that originated in the province of Dalarna, and even the café’s ethos is inspired by a Swedish word. 

René said: ‘I never thought much about it when I was growing up, as I assumed it was a word everyone in the world knew. In England, people pop to the pub for a pint and a chat, but in Sweden, we say, ‘let’s go for a fika.’ Fika describes a break; having a coffee and cake with friends or family. Many Swedish 

companies have fika breaks for employees, as you have tea breaks in England. Swedes and other Scandinavians have a reputation of being quiet and reserved, which perhaps has something to do with the climate, but we love socialising during a fika.’ 


The story of how René came to be in Horsham is going to take a while (you might want to grab a latte and a cinnamon bun and have your own little fika). Having always had a taste for adventure, René Jönefors dreamed of travelling around Europe. At the age of 19, she left on a yellow postal bike with three gears and a lucky Swedish flag, pulling a small trailer carrying her backpack and guitar, which she couldn’t even play. 

There was considerable excitement in Orsa and René even planned to write a regular column about her travels for the Swedish Post Union newsletter. However, having cycled from Belgium into France, the bicycle would only get as far as Bordeaux before it was abandoned, with René suffering with swollen knees and tired legs. Instead, she joined other backpackers, scrapped her itinerary and spent six months in the Canary Islands!   

After meeting an Australian, René travelled around the Middle East before spending two years in Sydney, working for a time at an Italian restaurant. The Bolognese at Johansson’s Café is made using the recipe she first learned in Sydney. René then lived in Edinburgh, before moving to Bishop’s Stortford to be closer to London airports, as she embarked on a 14-year career working in cabin crew for airlines including British Airways.  

It was in Bar Vin (now Anchor Hotel) in Horsham that René met her future husband, Mark Fay. They looked for a place to buy in the town, with plans to settle down and raise a family. But when they couldn’t find the right home at the right price, they were left with only one option: buy a dilapidated farmhouse in the Austrian Alps!

René recalls: ‘I love skiing and the outdoors, so we went to Austria for a skiing holiday and fell in love with the country. We found an old farmhouse with nine bedrooms and five bathrooms, which was being sold for the price of a small two-bedroom house in Horsham. It needed a lot of work, but Mark was able to do most of it himself. We went for it and established a successful Bed & Breakfast called Landhaus Fay. We were married on a boat on an Austrian lake and our two children were both born there. It was an idyllic life, with the children free to play in the hills, like the Von Trapps in The Sound of Music!’

Johansson’s Cafe promotes fika (©AAH/AW)


After eight years in Austria, René and Mark sold Landhaus Fay in 2016 and returned to England for their children’s education. For a while, René worked at Park Surgery, but had ambitions of running a Swedish café in the town.  

She came across an empty unit in the Bishopric, an area that had been without a café since the closure of Merrythought in 2015. The site was perfect, but by the time René was handed the keys, Covid was looming ominously on the horizon. The landlord allowed access so that she could redecorate and refurbish during lockdown and Johansson’s Café was finally ready to open its doors in September 2020. René rejected the idea of putting her own name above the door, instead using a name that was unmistakably Swedish (although the nation’s flag is also on the signage, just in case!) and was also her mother’s maiden name.  

As well as hot drinks, the café serves Swedish treats including cinnamon buns, cardamom buns, chocolate balls, Drömmar cookies, Punsch rolls and Swedish sticky chocolate cake. There is also a breakfast menu, which includes a delicious scrambled eggs and salmon, as well as waffles, all inspired by René’s homeland. 

She said: ‘I bake an apple pie using my mother’s old recipe and several items on the menu include berries I used to forage in the forests as a child. Orsa is a small town of about 7,000 people, but it’s renowned for wild mushrooms and berries. We would often pick berries and sell them at the market. Seasonal cloudberry – which is like raspberry but only grows in colder regions - are expensive and in great demand. We also picked blueberries and lingonberries to make jam. At Johansson’s, I use these berries for our waffles, while lingonberries are also used in the meatball and cheese toastie!’

Janne, Kristina, René and Jo at Johansson’s Cafe (©AAH/Alan Wright)


Even if you’ve not ventured inside Johansson’s Café, you may have seen the ski gondolas that have been adapted for seating booths in the pedestrianised area outside. These gondolas are a remnant of one of Mark and Rene’s money-making ventures. 

While living in Austria, Mark purchased chair lifts that were being replaced at the world-famous resort of Kitzbühel. He then took a stand at the London Snow Show and sold every one of them to a wide range of buyers. Sensing a wider business opportunity, the couple launched Alpine Accessories, selling gondolas and ski chairs to buyers across the world. Although the window of opportunity was a relatively brief one, René couldn’t resist the temptation to have gondolas at her café. The ones at Johansson’s were once used at the French Alps resort of Courchevel. 

 Four years since opening, Johansson’s has many regulars who have come to know René and other members of staff, including Janne, Kristina and Jo. They have also adapted to the Swedish concept of fika.  

René said: ‘Occasionally, people ask for treats such as scones, or request a full English breakfast, but that’s not what we’re about. Our food and ethos are inspired by a Scandinavian way of life and many recipes are directly inspired by Dalarna county. As well as the food, Swedish culture influences my approach to business. That’s why we close on Sundays and Mondays, as well as over the Christmas period. It costs money, but I have a lovely team and want them to be as happy in their work as I am. Baking all the treats in-house means we have early starts from Tuesday to Saturdays and that is tiring. So, it’s good to have a two-day break to enjoy other aspects of life too. What would be the point of working so hard that you don’t enjoy life?’ 

Further information:

Visit Johansson’s Cafe at 7 Bishopric, Horsham. www.johanssonscafe.co.uk