THUNDER BAY -- Once a very common business, saunas started disappearing from Thunder Bay and now, there is only one left. Kangas Sauna on Oliver Road, started in 1967 by Lily Kangas, is the only one left of its kind (not counting hotels, gyms and other facilities with saunas.) The Kangas family sold the business in 2001 and its current owners, Calley and Allan Onchulenko bought it in 2003.
Allan used to run a food delivery business and Kangas was one of his clients. He had always like the home-cooked food there and when he heard that the business was up for sale, he thought this might be something he and his wife would want in their future.
The first years were really good, Calley recalls. “We had good support from the community; people were happy to support a young couple. When we had a daughter, I brought her to work on the third day of her life, and my second (child) to work on the the second day. People love to support that we’re a young family,” she says.
Kangas Sauna has 18 sauna rooms of various sizes, and a restaurant that seats 50 people. Open seven days a week, they serve breakfast all day as well as a large menu including sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads and dinners. Everything is done in-house with fresh local ingredients, and maintaining the high quality of home-cooked food is important to the Onchulenkos. “We eat here, we like the food, and we want to maintain our standards of home-cooked food,” emphasizes Allan. “We don’t use margarine; we don’t let margarine into the building, and we don’t deep fry anything.”
The bread comes from Murillo bakery, the potatoes from B&B farms and they deal with local vendors and producers whenever they can. In the summer, they stock up their freezer with local wild blueberries. “They’re real Northern Ontario blueberries - we don’t make money on our blueberry pies! The food cost is quite high, so making that work is a little tricky,” Calley admits.
Generations of Thunder Bay families have been coming to Kangas over the decades, looking for a good meal and/or a sauna. “We have a few couples that come in; they used to come when they were younger and they’re in their 60th year of marriage, and their kids come, and their kids’ kids come, and then, the kids of those kids come,” says Calley. The restaurant is also quite popular with business owners in the area, as they provide a good meal that’s also very quick. “If you come in for lunch, you can be in and out in 20 minutes. We have a lot of repeat customers; some people come in for breakfast and lunch.”
While the Onchulenkos have been busy upgrading the aging infrastructure, they do not want to forget how it all began. “Lily Kangas the founder had a remarkable reputation within the community. She was a businesswoman, she was a mother, she was hardworking, she cooked, she had all the things that were required to run this successfully. So if I had a goal, it would be to live up to her standards. It’s such a unique place, it’s such a great place; if we could just continue this, that would be phenomenal,” says Calley.