‘It’s a death sentence for our business’: How a pioneering Stockholm food truck lost out on Covid-19 support

A Californian-Israeli food entrepreneur behind one of Stockholm's first food trucks has recently learned the business will not qualify for Sweden's coronavirus business support programme, despite being pushed into a loss last year. Erez explains how he fell through the gaps.

'It's a death sentence for our business': How a pioneering Stockholm food truck lost out on Covid-19 support
Erez Ofer busy at work in his food truck. Photo: Falafel Stockholm

Erez Ofer and his wife Stephanie started their food truck family business, now called Falafel Stockholm, in 2014, hoping to recreate the hummus, falafel rolls, and fresh salads they had enjoyed while living and studying in Tel Aviv. 

From the start, their food truck has been a hit, catering for conferences for companies like H&M and Björn Börg, and big events like Stockholm Pride, and even being featured in an advert for the accounting software company Visma. 

But the onset of the coronavirus pandemic meant they had to rapidly change their business model. 

“We barely had any catering or events, so we had to work our asses off with the food truck,” Erez says.

“We had to have the truck open for lunch and dinner every day, in different parts of the city, all over, because you’re only allowed four hours in the same spot, and we were able to have only a seven percent reduction in summer sales compared to the year before, which I’m really proud of.” 

Photo: Falafel Stockholm

What he didn’t realise is that all of this extra work would turn out to be counterproductive due to the increased costs it required and the criteria for receiving government support.

In order to receive support under the Swedish government’s coronavirus business support programme, called ‘omställningsstöd’ or ‘adjustment/transition support’, a business needs to show a minimum drop of 40 percent in sales. 

But Falafel Stockholm’s huge adjustment efforts actually led to decreased sales. 

The problem was that in order to keep sales steady, the business has significantly ramped up its costs, pushing it into a net loss. 

“It took a toll on the costs of the company, because we had to be open for much longer, we had to have our employees there for much longer, more driving, all that kind of stuff,” says Erez.

As a result, the company expects to make a loss of about 300,000 kronor this year on 1.5 million kronor in sales. 

It was only at the start of March 2021, after waiting more than six months to be able to send in a request for Omställningsstöd for August to October 2020, that he learned that his business would not qualify. The Swedish Tax Agency has been directed to only consider sales reductions of 40 percent when considering the economic impact of coronavirus on a business.

This is not the only way that Falafel Stockholm has fallen through the gaps. To be able to take the food truck out daily, he and his wife have hired more staff. But he can’t get help paying employees’ wages under the korttidspermittering (short-term lay-offs) system, which allows employers to temporarily get the government to supply up to 60 percent of employees’ salaries, if their working hours are reduced. 

“Based on their policy, if you’re able to hire new people, then you don’t need korttidspermittering and they’re not thinking that sometimes as a business, you need to grow in order to be able to survive.” 

“If you’re only looking at the sales, it doesn’t tell the whole picture of what’s going on in the business, and it’s not just us, there are a lot of other businesses that are having similar problems.” 

But despite contacting authorities to explain the situation, he said he has only received a standardized answer to his letter that he did not find helpful.

Eva Bodén, an advisor at the Swedish Tax Agency, said that Erez is not alone in his frustration at not qualifying support. 

“There are a lot of others who think they are losing out because of the way this has been set up,” she said, adding that many businesses had also seen their support reduced when the rules changes in July after a decision by the European Commission.

“It’s always the case that when you bring in a law that there are some people who don’t benefit.” 

She said that many restaurants, which have seen revenues fall after they were stopped from selling alcohol in the evening, and then closed after 8.30pm, were likely to qualify. 

The Vegan Schmegan truck, as it was previously called, at the Matholmen food festival in Stockholm. Photo: Falafel Stockholm

In January, before learning that they would not be eligible for omställningsstöd, after seven years searching and with the help of investors, Erez and Stephanie opened their first restaurant in the Vasastan district of Stockholm. 

Despite great reviews and an enthusiastic reception from the couple’s regular customers, the restaurant’s sales are being depressed by the pandemic.

“I’d say, it’s probably on average about 5,000 or 6,000 kronor a day, which is not enough to get by,” Erez says. “Considering our costs, we need around 7,000 or 8,000 minimum per day, which I think is a very reasonable expectation. I’m not in this to be greedy or get filthy rich. I’m doing this because it’s something I feel passionate about, fresh homemade food.” 

However, even this extra money means that their business will not qualify for omställningsstöd for all of the coming year, despite shouldering heavy start-up costs. The couple say this is basically a death sentence to the business. 

The Falafel Stockholm restaurant has got great reviews but hasn’t been as busy as hoped. Photo: Falafel Stockholm

Right now, Erez, Stephanie and their five children are going deeper and deeper in debt to keep the business going. 

“We can’t afford to pay taxes, so we are having to go into debt and take a loan from the tax authorities, and we’re going to have to take another loan from ALMI (Sweden’s state-owned bank for small business startups) to help us get through this as well.

“But you know, there’s personal liability for these loans, and also there’s an interest that needs to be paid. It’s really tough, we have paid our taxes for years, we and all of the other small businesses in similar situations have gotten royally screwed.” 

Member comments

  1. You had me on-side at the start, but opening a restaurant in the Vasastan district during Covid and whilst the food truck business is making a loss and reduced sales, and without knowing whether you qualify for government support, is a HUGE risk and irresponsible. Why would the government be responsible for back-stopping a private business taking this amount of risk? I’m afraid you’ve made some miscalculated decisions and should count yourself lucky and grateful to have received loans on this basis

    1. Because the government has already dismantled responsibilities for its citizens. What can we hope from such a greedy and calculating government?

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IN NUMBERS: How freelance profits in Sweden compare to actual salaries

Employers in Sweden pay taxes and pension payments for each employee, so if you go freelance, you end up having to pay them yourself. The accountancy firm Frivision has estimated for The Local how profits from a solo company correspond to a salary as an employed person.

Woman working on laptop from sofa
Freelancing has plenty of perks, but make sure you've done your sums right or you could get a nasty shock when tax season comes. Photo: Margareta Bloom Sandebäck/

Tobias Ryberg, director of Frivision, says that people who decide to go freelance or work as a self-employed consultant can be tempted to see the payments that come in from clients as earnings. But this can cause problems if they haven’t budgeted for the taxes and social fees that they’ll need to pay later, either at the end of the month, quarterly or yearly. 

“It’s easy to think that everything you earn is your income,” he told The Local.

“But in fact, you have a lot of taxes, so in the worst case, people end up spending all the money they’ve made, and then they are behind with taxes, sometimes forever, so that’s a potential trap.”

Employees in Sweden are required to make a seven percent contribution to unemployment insurance, pensions, family benefits, and health insurance, while employers contribute 31.42 percent. 

When you go freelance, whether you set up a one-person company or register for “F-skatt”, Sweden’s sole trader tax system, you have to pay these contributions yourself (albeit at a slightly reduced rate). 

This means, Ryberg estimates, that you need to make a net profit of 500,000 a year at your company to have the same effective salary as an employee earning 31,705 a month (or 380,460 kronor a year). 

Here are Frivision’s numbers: 


So what should foreigners bear in mind before going freelance or setting up a one-person business? 

"First, you need to know what your cost base is and if you need some materials. For example, if you're a photographer you need expensive cameras and to budget for travel costs," Ryberg said. 

"Then if you want to make, say, 30,000 kronor a month in salary, you need to know that the company must bring in about 40,000 kronor in net profit, because you will pay all these additional taxes and welfare payments."

It's also important to note that the above figures don't take holiday into account. While employees in Sweden get at least 25 days of paid annual leave, plus public holidays, freelancers and self-employed people need to budget for this themselves. 

And if you're comparing with a specific salary, for example when judging whether it's worth quitting a job to go freelance or weighing up a job offer and a freelance agreement, remember to look at the entire compensation package. With many jobs in Sweden, this will include an employee pension and possible extra perks such as a contribution to fitness and wellness expenses (frikshetsbidrag) which you'll need to cover using your profits as a self-employed person. Of course, as a self-employed person there are some tax deductions you can make yourself as well.

Another tip from Ryberg is to have at least one reliable customer when starting out, if you can, to maintain some level of regular recurring income.

"If you're a freelance journalist, you for example know that 'I will work with this newspaper', so you have a customer base." 

And finally, it is probably a good idea to save up a cash buffer so that you can survive any lean months that come your way. 

"What do you do if you don't get any revenue next month? You need to make some kind of appropriate security planning according to your level of comfort. Some people are okay not to know, but others might want to have a good buffer tougher to feel safe and secure." 

And should you set up your own company or pay F-skatt? 

Ryberg generally recommends that clients set up their own company. This means if the business goes bankrupt, they are protected. It can also be more tax-efficient, particularly for high earners such as computer programmers and consultants. And, it also means you can avail yourself of government schemes, like the support packages for businesses introduced during the pandemic. 

For those on lower incomes, the total tax take can be slightly lower for someone on F-skatt, but he believes that the advantages above generally outweigh this. If you're unsure, it may be worth seeking personalised advice from an accountant.