Thunder Bay·Poll

Thunder Bay's Hoito Restaurant could close

Thunder Bay's Finlandia Association is more than $700,000 in debt, its treasurer says, meaning that it –including the landmark Hoito Restaurant – is in danger of closing.

The Finlandia's board of directors urges the community to help

The Hoito Restaurant, a Thunder Bay landmark best known for its Finnish pancakes, is helping pay the bills for the Finlandia Association. (finlandianeighbourhood.com)
Imagine a Thunder Bay without the Hoito Restaurant! Semms unthinkable. Kelly Saxberg, treasurer of the Finlandia Assocation says it's a real concern. 11:20

Thunder Bay's Finlandia Association is more than $700,000 in debt, its treasurer says, meaning that it –including the landmark Hoito Restaurant – is in danger of closing.

Finlandia Association treasurer Kelly Saxberg is urging the community to support the century-old institution during its financial crisis. (Twitter)
The current board of directors faced a mass of red ink when it was elected last year, Kelly Saxberg said. Most of it was from loans taken out to complete renovations to the century-old Labour Temple, including the failed Embassy Bistro, that weren't covered by government funding.

Even though the Hoito is often busy, Saxberg said servicing those loans, and keeping up with the building's taxes and operating costs, swallow up most of the popular restaurant's revenue.

"That's over $60,000 a year that we have to pay to service loans," she said, adding that the association is also behind on payments to its vendors.

"We're scraping by every single month, she said  "If there was any kind of a giant snowstorm and the Hoito was closed on a weekend, we wouldn't make payroll, so we are that close."

Upstairs from the restaurant, the building's main hall is an affordable event space for a number of community organizations, including LU Radio. The perilous future of the Finlandia concerns Jason Wellwood, the campus station's manager. 

LU Radio's Jason Wellwood says the Finlandia is a relatively affordable and attractive hall for the station and other organizations to hold events. (Gord Ellis/CBC)
"It's not even just so much for the events that the station holds there, but it is a pretty pivotal piece of history and a pretty pivotal gathering spot," he said, adding the radio station holds about three events there every year, and is involved with a number of others.

'Make the rallying call'

In the face of dire financial straits, Kelly Saxberg said the board has been proactive in finding solutions, but it still needs the help of "the whole community."

That could mean renting out the hall, or volunteering on the board or at events, Saxberg said, adding that the board has secured funding for a community liaison worker, and hired a new manager at the Hoito. Properties the association owns adjacent to the Labour Temple have also been put up for sale to raise money, she said.

The hall is more active lately than it has been, Saxberg noted, with a variety of events – staffed by volunteers – taking place, but "whether it will be enough, I don't know," she said.

"We just have to really make the rallying call and say, 'yes, we are in trouble, and come out and be active.'"

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