THUNDER BAY - The effort to save the iconic Hoito Restaurant hit a new milestone on Tuesday, with the original Go Fund Me drive hitting its target of raising $25,000.
“That money is going towards the purchase of the hall,” said Heleena Stephens, one of the founders of the Finlandia Co-operative. “It is a small step, a milestone we’ve reached now to keep going forward and get to what we will actually need to follow through with our plans.”
The Finlandia Association was dissolved last month because of a nearly $1 million debt and RBC denying the deferral of a $2,000 biweekly mortgage payment. The Hoito Restaurant, which was operated by the Finlandia Association, also closed its doors.
Following the liquidation of the Finlandia Association, Lakehead University student, Lyndsay Williams, started a Go Fund Me page to save the historic restaurant.
The Finlandia Co-operative was formed a short time later and the money raised by the Go Fund Me initiative will go toward the larger plans of purchasing the 110-year-old hall and eventually reopening the Hoito.
“It’s been such a great outpouring and it’s been on so many levels, which is nice,” Stephens said. “We’ve had individuals who have told us their stories or expressed interest in volunteering or helping in any way they can. And groups have come forward and we’ve had meetings with organizations that are either looking for a new home or a place to rent.”
The co-operative also filed papers this week to be incorporated as a not-for-profit and Stephens said they have support from various levels of government, which she hopes will help move the process along quicker and allow them to apply for additional funding.
“We will start looking at different funding options, whether that is a Community Foundation bond, or financial lender, or anyone who would like to invest,” she said.
“The financial side of things is one focus and the second part is we’ve started the ball rolling with consumer co-operative and the not-for-profit model, so bylaws and governance discussions need to start happening to ensure what we are doing is in the minds of the community members who have supported us so far.”
And while reaching the $25,000 target of the original Go Fund Me page is a real boost to those on the Finlandia Co-operative, there is still a long way to go to hit the $200,000 overall goal.
According to Stephens, they have raised approximately $38,000 so far and have been meeting with community organizations about the possibility of renting out the space after it is purchased.
“We are still looking for financial supporters either as direct donations or investors,” she said.
Those who are donating are interested in saving the Hoito, which is known across the country for its Finnish pancakes.
Members of the Finlandia Co-operative are hopeful the restaurant will return as people remember it, but it is still a long road ahead.
“We are looking at all of the options with the Hoito and it’s reopening,” Stephens said. “It will be a long-term plan though. It won’t be we purchase the hall and then suddenly we can reopen in the Hoito. There are a lot of steps that need to be taken in the meantime.”
“The majority of supporters have said they want to see the Hoito open again and see it running. So there will be a focus of making that happen as soon as possible.”
Donations are still being accepted on the Save the Hoito Go Fund Me page. Donations can also be made directly to the Finlandia Co-operative’s Bay Credit Union account by e-transferring funds to firstname.lastname@example.org directly to the credit union.