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Let's Eat: Hoito pancakes make long-awaited return

The group looking to relaunch Thunder Bay's iconic Hoito restaurant will serve up the eatery's signature Finnish pancakes at the Thunder Bay Country Market starting this week.

THUNDER BAY — More than three years after the iconic Hoito restaurant closed its doors, its signature Finnish pancakes are set to make a hotly anticipated return to local plates.

On Wednesday, members of the Finlandia Co-operative of Thunder Bay will be serving up the local favourite out of their new temporary home at the Thunder Bay Country Market.

The temporary Hoito location will be open during market hours from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

It will start with a bare-bones menu including the classic pancake recipe, bacon, and eggs, the market stand will offer weekly specials, Kiitos blend coffee, and other items including regular and gluten-free Hoito pancake mix, coffee beans, and Hoito merchandise.

Finlandia Co-op president Paula Haapanen said the specials are intended to give the limited kitchen a chance to delve into some other Hoito favourites.

"People have been asking for the mojakka, some people have been asking for rice pudding - someone made a joke about the liver and onions," she said. "We'll have to see the capacity we have after serving the pancakes. It's a work in progress."

The new location will also allow diners to walk down memory lane and take a seat on distinctive blue chairs salvaged from the Bay Street restaurant.

The group announced its plans to sell pancakes at the market last year, offering up its signature dish for the first time since it closed its doors in 2020 due to COVID-19, a closure later extended after the Finlandia Association filed for bankruptcy.

That was compounded by tragic loss after a fire destroyed the Finlandia building in December 2021.

Haapanen called the market a perfect temporary home.

"The fact that it wasn't a full-on, seven-days-a-week restaurant for now was appealing to us so we can work out the proceses and stuff like that on a bit of an easier schedule," said Paula Happanen. "Another thing is it's another type of gathering place [like] the Hoito was a gathering place. It's a place where we see people gathering already, meeting up with friends on a Saturday morning, having a cup of coffee and spending time together... We're really glad to be in that kind of environment.

The market operation will function with three employees, while co-op members may bus on a volunteer basis.

May 1 marked the 105th anniversary for the restaurant, which was one of the oldest continually operating in Canada until its closure.

That legacy is tied into just what makes the restaurant's pancakes stand out, said Haapanen.

"What makes a Hoito pancake particularly special is we have the recipe passed down ... from one head cook down to the next head cook," she said. "I know people say it's the worst-kept secret and everybody has the recipe. I don't think that's true."

"It's its own special twist and it's got its own history."

Members of the Finlandia Co-operative said the restaurant’s rebirth in a satellite location at the market marks a major milestone as the group looks to re-open the eatery under a consumers’ cooperative model.

“We continue to work toward the goal of reopening the historic Hoito Restaurant, and this satellite location is a great step towards our goal,” said Haapanen.

If successful, that would make the Hoito one of only six cooperatively owned restaurants in Ontario, the group said, while noting the co-op model has been on the rise in Canada.

The Hoito was first launched as a co-op by Finnish bush workers in 1918.

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