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Finlandia Co-operative looking to lease Hoito Restaurant

The Co-operative is hoping to lease the space from the new owner to maintain the history of the local restaurant
The Hoito Restaurant closed last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (File).

THUNDER BAY - A local cooperative that sought to purchase the historic Finnish Labour Temple is still looking to keep a part of the building operated by the Finnish community.

The Finlandia Co-operative, which was formed after the Finlandia Association was liquidated last spring, is hoping to continue discussions with the new property owner about potentially leasing the Hoito Restaurant.

“I think the whole community would be happy to have that back,” said Paula Haapanen, interim president of Finlandia Co-operative. “So I think it’s important if we can. The Hoito was a part of the big picture, but even if we can have that space... We have every intention of showing the artifacts, explaining the history.”

The Finlandia Association voted to liquidate last May. The association was more than $1 million in debt, and with COVID-19 forcing the closure of the restaurant and RBC denying a deferral of a biweekly $2,000 mortgage payment, association members felt it was the only option.

The Finlandia Co-operative launched a fundraising effort in the hopes of purchasing the 110-year old Bay Street building, but it fell short after failing to meet the Aug. 12 target date for submitting a bid.

Former Lakehead University student Brad McKinnon ultimately purchased the property in September for $375,000.

Following the sale, McKinnon said he plans to turn the banquet hall and auditorium into high-end apartments in order to allow the building to make a profit.

He said he would keep the Hoito Restaurant but would bring in new staff, a new menu, and refurbish and update the space.

Haapanen said she would like to see the Finlandia Co-operative involved in the future of the Hoito Restaurant in order to preserve some of the history of the space.

“I think history is a big part of why the Finnish community should be involved in it somehow,” she said. “It’s touched so many. For us, it was always about celebrating the roots, but also opening it up and building it out to the whole community. That’s still valid, even if we are talking about the Hoito Restaurant on its own.”

The Finlandia Co-operative has $37,000 that was raised in its effort to purchase the property, which Haapanen said puts them in a good position to take on a lease.

“I think we are starting from a healthy position and it’s our goal to not necessarily take a loan to move that forward,” she said. “The discussions are in the very early stages.”

Haapanen added McKinnon will be in the city in the coming weeks and the Co-operative will continue discussions about the future of the Hoito Restaurant.

The Finlandia Co-operative itself may also review how it functions. Haapanen said they are hoping to expand the board to six members, as well as put the question to members if the organization should continue as a not-for-profit, or move to a for-profit model if the lease for the Hoito goes ahead.

Doug Diaczuk

About the Author: Doug Diaczuk

Doug Diaczuk is a reporter and award-winning author from Thunder Bay. He has a master’s degree in English from Lakehead University
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