Eating pancakes to save history

A Northern Ontario landmark goes online with its famous pancake recipe—and needs your help to keep this delicious tradition alive.

The Hoito building suffered a devasting fire on Dec 22, 2021.  

It’s a quiet Sunday morning. The smell of pancakes slowly fills the kitchen and living room. The family is crowding around the table, eager to begin the breakfast feast.  

Whether your pancakes are drowned in syrup or stuffed, you have just contributed to the possible reopening of a mythical Canadian establishment—the Hoito, opened in 1918, closed during the Spring 2020 lockdown, then swept away by the bankruptcy of the Finlandia Association of Thunder Bay a few weeks later.

An inventive new co-op

The Finlandia Cooperative of Thunder Bay, formed in July 2020, is now deploying its arsenal in an effort to reopen the Hoito. 

That's because Hoito is more than a restaurant. It's a piece of Thunder Bay's history, it's a community, and it's also a source of both local and Canadian pride. But to revive it and update the kitchen and dining room, the new co-op needs funding. That's where your Sunday morning comes in:

As of mid-May, to secure its financial footing, the original Hoito pancake mix is on sale in 475g packages on Amazon

Stacks on stacks on stacks. Photo: Howard Bouchevereau on Unsplash.

Enjoy Hoito's pancakes at home

Hoito means pancakes. The Finnish restaurant's pancakes are probably as much a part of Thunder Bay's heritage as Hoito itself. The original recipe, passed down by word of mouth from chef to chef since 1918, was designed to produce hundreds and hundreds of pancakes at a time.

Eating pancakes for the greater good? This is what we call combining business with pleasure. Photo: Derek Lankinen. 

Adapting the recipe for 18-pancake servings to be sold online was no small feat. Paula Haapanen, the acting president of the Finlandia Cooperative, knows something about that. 

When she was a member of the old association, she saw the impressive list of ingredients needed to keep the restaurant running—and the bills that went with it. "They were making shovels and mixing shovels of it," she says.

Big Lake Pasta (which makes pasta shaped like Lake Superior), then stepped in. With the help of the small local company, the co-op reduced the recipe while staying true to the taste and texture of the ones the restaurant was serving. "We did a lot of testing," Paula Haapanen concedes with a laugh. "It was delicious, and we're pretty proud of the result."

The DIY pancakes have the same great taste Hoito fans know and love. Photo reproduced with the permission of the Coop.

You can do the testing yourself by visiting Amazon. If you're in Thunder Bay, pick up the mix at one of the specialty stores that reflect Thunder Bay's cultural diversity and charm: Maltese Grocery, The Cheese Encounter, Take A Hike + Take 2 Boutique, Dawson General Store, and more. The complete, up-to-date list is posted on the co-op's Facebook page.

Wear the Hoito colors

In addition to offering the pancake mix, the co-op designed a limited run of clothing and accessories featuring its distinctive logo. Hoodies, sweatshirts, caps, t-shirts, and mugs were on offer in a virtual pop-up store that's now closed—if you snagged some of this merch congratulations! 

For this new chapter, the co-op has created a logo with the Finnish hannunvaakuna (a looped square also known as the Saint John's arm, the Saint Hannes cross, or Bowen's knot), which was used by the Hoito. "It indicates cultural and heritage places in Finland," explains Paula Haapanen. 

The logo is also reminiscent of Hoito's door frame. "That's where the lettering comes from, with a rounding. We wanted to have some of the old in the new." Sure enough, the logo also features the blue of the Finnish flag. 

Hoito, July 18, 2008. Photo by Tony Webster, on flickr.

More than a restaurant 

The Finlandia Co-Operative wants to reopen the restaurant in the basement of the building where, until March 2020, Finnish pancakes, karjalan piiraka (a pie with a rye crust stuffed with rice) with egg salad, makkara sausage, salmon suolakala and Finnish viili (yogurt) were so popular.  

Undaunted by the forced closure of the restaurant and the bankruptcy of the Finnish association, a group of die-hards launched the idea of forming a co-operative. In addition to renovating and reviving the restaurant, the group wants to create a program around Finnish cuisine and culture. The co-op has already thought of plenty of possibilities: book clubs, a language school, workshops, a cooking school and a community kitchen. "Thunder Bay is a very foodie city," says Haapanen. The co-op could, for example, rent the kitchen to entrepreneurs.

The Finnish Labor Temple, built in 1910. Gift of Sandra Koivu to the Thunder Bay Finnish Canadian Historical Society. Photo from Lakehead University Library Archives and Digital Collections. 

Thunder Bay's Little Finland

Thunder Bay has long prided itself on having the largest Finnish community outside Finland. Is that still the case? Paula Haapanen doubts it. "We're in the fourth, fifth, and sixth generation.” Still, more than 1,600 people are native Finnish speakers, and 450 speak it fluently at home. 

But still, many people relate to Finland. Thunder Bay fully embraces this part of its history. Everyone knows Hoito: "Hoito really belongs to the whole community," says the Finnish native. 

Before the restaurant can reopen, funds must be raised, and the basement of the Finnish Labour Hall must be revamped. A developer is already transforming the auditorium and banquet hall of the heritage building into apartments. But that hasn't stopped him from being interested in reopening the restaurant on his property.

So the pancake mix serves as a fundraiser and as a way to ensure the co-op's future when the restaurant reopens. "We need to diversify our revenue sources," explains Paula Haapanen. The sale of promotional items will also continue, and shares of the social capital cooperative will be for sale, possibly in the summer of 2021. 

Until the Hoito reopens, you’ll have to eat pancakes.

About Northern Ontario

Welcome to Northern Ontario, Canada! Bigger than Texas, wilder than the west, more welcoming than a campfire in October, Northern Ontario is like no place else. Sunset Country is famous for its spectacular fishing lakes, Superior Country has friendly towns and a superior coastline, Algoma Country has bucket list drives and epic outdoor adventure, and the Northeast provides excellent vacation destinations close to Toronto and other large urban centres in Southern Ontario.

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