Thunder Bay, Ont. — From a devastating fire to relocating, mechanical upgrades and finding staff, the Hoito Restaurant and its popular Finnish pancakes are back, in the Dorothy Dove building at the Thunder Bay Country Market.
Paula Haapanen, president of the Finlandia Co-operative of Thunder Bay, said that May 1 marked the 105th anniversary of the opening of the Hoito Restaurant. The grand opening today of the new satellite location is a major milestone in the nearly three-year long effort to reopen the iconic restaurant.
“We had some challenges finding personnel, and every employer across the known world is having issues trying to find qualified staff,” said Haapanen. “Then we had to update some of the electrical (system) because we needed to have ventilation in there, so that took some time.”
Haapanen said practising work in a limited space Saturdays, through a series of soft-launches, was another learning curve.
“It’s not the same footprint as the old Hoito. We have to work within the parameters that were given,” she said. “Right now, we’re pretty confident in our pancake game. As things progress and we have more consistent flow, then we’ll start adding other things to the menu.”
Haapanen says for now, the popular Finnish pancakes are the number one menu item and they’ll start rolling out their other heritage items. Some of the things that are on the menu are limited to the basic facilities they have in the Dove building.
“As for all of the former dishes, who knows, we might roll something out,” she said. “We might even do a poll (with our customers). I think the most important thing is a pancake. Everybody wants a hot pancake. You’ve been able to make do with the pancake mix at home but pancakes, that’s what our focus is.”
Haapanen noted that almost all of their food supplies including syrup, eggs and bacon are sourced locally.
“We’re really trying to make this a community-collaborative, inclusive type of service,” she added.
Also featured at the new Hoito satellite location are several of the original chairs that were salvaged from the Finnish Labour Temple on Bay Street after the fire.
“I still think that’s a small miracle because why wouldn’t they have burned with everything else,” Haapanen questioned. “I guess it was just the way things went but thanks to the generosity of the current owner Brad McKinnon, we were able to salvage some of those.”
Funding from the Finlandia Co-operative of Thunder Bay that was raised through numerous fundraising initiatives such as their pancake mix, branded coffee and T-shirt sales, helped to provide the costs involved with the satellite startup.
“We had started by asking for donations, then Lindsey Williams, who is a current member of the board, started her own separate GoFundMe campaign to save the Hoito and then we kind of merged,” Haapanen said. “We ended up having about $30,000, and then of course, the pancake sales have certainly supported us along the way.”
Haapanen says the perspective of opening up the restaurant at the former location after the devastating fire on Dec. 22, 2021, means everything changed.
“Starting up and kitting out a brand new restaurant is a completely different story to working with what’s already there. There’s still a lot of work to do to get us even close to being able to make that part a reality,” she said.”