THUNDER BAY – Just call it a comeback.
It’s been here for years and it appears the world-famous Hoito Restaurant will be around for many more to come.
On Monday the Finlandia Co-operative of Thunder Bay announced it has signed a lease with the new owner of the century-old Finnish Labour Temple, BK Realty Investment Management, to revive the restaurant, renowned for its pancakes, with plans to reopen as early as June 2022.
It's a big day, said co-operative president Paula Haapanen, one of the driving forces behind the iconic restaurant's return, 19 months after it closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 17 months after the building's previous owner filed for creditor protection after a bank refused relief when the mortgage payment couldn't be met.
"It's momentous for us. It's a very big concrete step forward. What this means for us in practice is now, we can, with an easier heart, start selling shares for the co-operative and encourage people to become member owners of the Finlandia Co-operative, which will also mean you'll be an owner of the Hoito Restaurant," Haapanen said, moments after announcing the deal.
It's a day she hoped would one day come, but one she wasn't sure would, given the realities of the situation. The building was in disrepair and her group lost out on a bid to purchase it, leaving them at the mercy of its new owner, Brad McKinnon.
Thankfully, she said, he was on board with the idea of keeping the Hoito going from the very start.
"We certainly hoped against hope that we'd be successful. We tried to buy the building. That didn't work out, but we thought something needs to stay, so we turned to focusing on the Hoito, to maintain a piece of history. The restaurant is over 100 years old. We wouldn't want to lose it now," Haapanen said.
It won't be the same old Hoito, however.
Chef Derek Lankinen, one of seven co-operative board members on hand for Monday's announcement, said not to worry, the Finnish pancakes will still be the centrepiece of the menu.
But it'll have a new flavour too, he said.
"There is absolutely a reputation going on here," Lankinen said. "We're really looking forward to maintaining the legacy of the food at the Hoito, but also modernizing it at the same time, and taking a very co-operative approach as to how we're actually going to do that, get some other people involved and really get a modern take as to what the Hoito looks like in 2022 and beyond. The pancakes will still be there, absolutely."
McKinnon, who is conducting the renovations of both the restaurant and the Finnish Labour Temple upstairs, said he initially thought the entre project would take up to 18 months. Now he believes two years is a more likely scenario. His plans also include adding two new mixed-use buildings to the site, adding 70,000 square feet of living space to the vibrant neighbourhood.
"When the property went up for sale, I saw it as a property in need. The Finnish Labour Temple, it's a cultural icon. It's a heritage piece. It's a rallying point for people on Saturday morning to come and have breakfast, for people in the community to meet and make memories," McKinnon said. "It's such a wonderful property, it's so important to the Bay and Algoma area and I felt I needed to come here and save the building, renovate it, bring it back to its former glory and hopefully allow it to last for another 110 years."