Keep calm and carry on. So says the writing on the wall in the Handal family’s home in Harads, next to pictures of the children and the citizen of the year awards for both Boden and Edefors. The wall symbolically highlights the life and pride of entrepreneur Juan Handal.
Juan Handal leads a hectic life, he’s constantly on the go. He juggles four different companies and has a seemingly inexhaustible drive. Some time ago the Edefors region, which consists of 13 villages in the northwestern part of Boden municipality, named him the Edefors Man of the Year. At the 2022 Business Gala in Boden, he was named Boden’s Person of the Year, by popular vote.
He meets us at Harads’ newly opened eatery Svantes Bistro & Café. Juan is a co-owner of Svantes Vilt & Bär, the company responsible for reviving the old, historic café building that houses the bistro – one of Handal’s 17 properties.
He also runs a laundry and cleaning company, for the same simple reason he runs the bistro – its services are needed in the area. Sometimes he goes straight from one job to go and wash dishes, help his staff and talk to the guests at the other.
”Yes, I have three full-time jobs. I probably walk 18,000 steps in a day. When I haven’t had time to exercise, I go for a walk in the middle of the night. It’s good when there are bright summer nights here. And I love cleaning at night”, he says with a laugh.
But later on, as he sits with his family in the autumn sun at home on the balcony, he is as calm and still just like the mirror-like Lule River that slowly slides by. He points out that it is important to take time to sit down and have coffee and be in the moment with his family, no matter how busy life is.
His wife Rawan smiles and says that if he hadn’t been allowed to work the way he does, he would have gone crazy, that’s just the way he is. Together they are a strong team, they complement each other well. She works as a teacher at the school in the neighbouring village Svartlå, he’s a multi-entrepreneur.
”I can’t believe it’s true that it has gone so well. But it wouldn’t have worked without with all the good people around me.”
Juan sums up his recipe for success: it’s about finding the right, the talented people, and getting them to enjoy their job enough to stay.
20 years ago he came to Harads as a newly arrived refugee from Palestine. The day before Christmas Eve, with temperatures at 33 below zero, his family were introduced to their new home. They had left family, friends and a large restaurant business because of the war. In Harads, they started from scratch.
”I was 20 years old at the time and had grown up with war and unrest. I remember feeling that Sweden was calm and good, here I felt safe. This is how I want my children to grow up. The entire municipality of Boden is a good place in which to live and invest, and there is strong support from both politicians, companies and associations.
Rawan is also from Palestine, but they met in Sweden. At home, the family speaks Arabic. But Juan points out the importance of quickly learning the language and taking the local lifestyle to heart. In a small town it is easier, he says. He taught himself by working, listening and learning. At Svantes Vilt & Bär, he got to work with one of the company’s experienced employees and learn everything he did.
Owner Svante Renberg saw young Juan’s potential and the Renbergs became like a second family. Over the years, Juan became a co-owner together with Svante’s four children, one of his sons has been Juan’s closest colleague and friend since 2005.
” This is where I’ve built my future. I want to give everything I can back to that company and be the person Svante saw and wanted to give a chance.”Juan Handal
”This is where I have built my future. I want to give everything I can back to that company and be the person Svante saw and wanted to give a chance. I also want to give back to the olde generation who have built this country”, says Juan.
Among his tenants, he has many seniors whom he takes care of and, among other things, he hosts a barbecue for them every year. Those who cannot come will have a lunch box delivered to the door.
His phone interrupts the Sunday calm. A recently shot bear is on its way to Svantes Vilt & Bär and Juan has to go. He grabs a protein shake and a banana on his way out. Keep calm and carry on. #
Text: Anna Bergström / Photo: Mats Engfors
Right now, there is a lot of growth in the central town of Boden, as well as viable industries and strong entrepreneurship in both of our river valleys. Here you can live and work with abundant free time and the magnificent natural world right on your doorstep, at all times of the year and day. One moment, you can work ”glocally”, reaching the world from your desk. Moments later, you can go skiing or snowmobiling under the northern lights.