THUNDER BAY -- Lovers of traditional Finnish pancakes will soon be able to look no further than a familiar landmark in Thunder Bay’s artsy Bay and Algoma neighbourhood.
The iconic Hoito restaurant is slated to reopen in June at the same Finnish temple location on Bay Street, after the 110-year-old heritage building that houses it has undergone a $5.3-million renovation.
Under a five-year lease announced on Monday with the building’s new owner, the main-floor restaurant is to be overseen by the newly-formed Finlandia Co-operative.
“We think the co-operative model will work,” co-operative president Paula Haapanen said Tuesday. “Everybody will have a say.”
More than $65,000 has been fundraised “to help us get (the Hoito) back to looking like a restaurant,” said Haapanen, adding the menu will feature the traditional Finnish pancake recipe that has made the Hoito famous.
The Hoito closed its doors in March 2020 following a period of financial instability that resulted in the whole building being put up for sale.
The landmark’s future seemed in doubt until August of last year, when it was bought by Thunder Bay developer Brad McKinnon, a former Hoito customer.
McKinnon said he wanted to restore the temple building as a place where “people make memories,” while renovating the building as a whole inside and out.
“The Bay Street facade won’t change — it will still look like a Finnish temple — but we’re going to modernize the east-side entrance and re-do the (restaurant) kitchen layout,” McKinnon said Tuesday.
McKinnon is also adding 3,000 square feet to the building, which will offer two leased apartments in what has been the building’s attic.
A priority for McKinnon, he said, will be to keep a handle on maintenance and financial issues so that the Hoito never again faces the prospect of insolvency.
McKinnon said he also plans to add up to $18 million worth of commercial and residential development to the property he acquired next door.
“I’ve been very impressed by the community support for this project,” McKinnon said.
City of Thunder Bay tourism manager Paul Pepe said the Hoito was always a hit with tourists and locals alike.
“It’s been part of Thunder Bay’s history and story of who we are today as a community,” Pepe said. “It’s wonderful to see the building have new vibrancy through residential development, while honouring heritage.”
Liberal MPP Michael Gravelle, whose constituency office is located in the Bay and Algoma neighbourhood, noted that “the Hoito has been one of the prime tourist attractions for Thunder Bay for over 100 years.”
“To know that great tradition will once again continue fills me and so many others with great joy,” added Gravelle (Thunder Bay-Superior North).
Carl Clutchey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal