History of Restaurant Oiva

History of Restaurant Oiva told by Kari Kinos and Kirsti Koivulaakso..

Oiva's story began in 1934, with its establishment in Porthaninkatu street, in a wooden building above the current location. This restaurant was later referred to as Puu-Oiva (Wood Oiva).

Oiva was founded by Mr J.A. Koivulaakso, who had previously run a canteen in Sörnäinen.

Oiva moved to its current location in 1941, when a new stone building was completed on the corner of Porthaninkatu and Kolmas linja. The premises were actually designed as a restaurant, unlike Restaurant Klaava opposite, which was designed as a car dealership.

Mr Koivulaakso suffered a fatal heart attack while at work in 1955.

Koivulaakso's widow sold Oiva to Sakari Ruotsalainen and his wife, who had previously worked for Oiva.

Oiva becomes Bistro

In the mid-1960s, Oiva was bought by Hilden bakeries.

Until then, Oiva had had a 'wine licence', not being allowed to sell
anything stronger. In 1967, it changed its name to Bistro. Soon after that it
was granted a licence to sell stronger drinks. Bistro's business idea was
to provide both meals and entertainment, including dancing. Bistro's
speciality was its meat buffet, offering unlimited meat dishes for a set price. The meats were carved by restaurant manager Hjördis Sundvall, who was very much liked by his customers. He also seemed to work at all times, from
morning to evening. Dances were held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and customers were treated to live music at other times, too. Popular pianists included Asser Fagerström and an old lady known simply as Teppana. Dance music was usually provided by the Fagerström trio.

10 August 1971 was an important day for Finnish sports and the Bistro
restaurant. The European Championships in athletics were opened at the Olympic Stadium, and Juha Väätäinen won the 10,000 metre race on the same day. This was also the day when the Bistro bar was opened in Kallio, in premises where the Karjakunta butcher's shop had previously stood. And they definitely needed the extra space, because the restaurant was becoming more and more popular, with people queueing into the street during weekends. When Heikki Hildeni died in 1974, Bistro was first transferred to Fazer Oy's subsidiary Cofa, and soon after to a joint company called GO INN, owned by Fazer and the Swiss company Nestle. Business continued on this basis until 1977, when the staff were informed that Bistro would be renovated and the business idea changed, with food no longer served at the table, and the dishes would mainly be pizzas and
lunch items. The customers did not like this and started up a campaign to
retain the old system. The newspaper Iltasanomat covered the matter, asking customers give their opinion. But the protests were to no avail, and the renovation began. The renovation started on the last Monday of April in 1977, but the restaurant had already been closed on the previous Friday due to a strike by the union of hotel and restaurant workers. The strike continued until the last week of May, but the Bistro renovation was not completed until 7 July. The new restaurant was an instant success. The old regular customers forgot their protests, perhaps visiting the restaurant even more frequently. There were also many new customers, not least because the prices were considerably lower thanks to self-service. The new Bistro was very different from the old one: the dining area faced an open kitchen with a brick pizza oven. The pizzas were so popular that people would buy take-aways to take home or to various events around Helsinki. An island was built in the middle of the dining area, where customers assembled their drinks and lunches. The Bistro lunch was the most popular in Kallio, with customers queuing from the till to the front door. The Bistro bar was converted into a pub, and darts were introduced. The customers founded a darts club, Galliolaiset, with a logo in which Obelix carried a dart, instead of a menhir, on his shoulder. Galliolaiset did very well to begin with, but the club eventually lost members and fell into decline. The darts tradition has been carried on in Oiva by the Sörkan Tikka darts club.

The period after the renovation became the golden era of Bistro. It was genuinely one of the most popular restaurants in Helsinki. There were plenty of customers from morning until late at night, especially after ownership was transferred to Kantaravintolat. The daily opening hours were from 9 am to 1 am. But Bistro was not just a sitting room for people in Kallio, customers poured in from other parts of Helsinki too. Customers poured in from eastern Helsinki, especially after the underground line was completed. Customers came from a wide social spectrum. By the 1970s, the place was frequented by rich businessmen, university professors, actors and athletes, but the regulars nevertheless consisted of ordinary workers and students. The golden era lasted until the economic slump of the 1990s. Combined with the much easier availability of licences to serve alcohol, the slump dealt a major blow to the restaurant.

Bistro becomes Oiva again

The restaurant went through a major transformation and changed its name back to Oiva. It also became more popular as new customers discovered Oiva. In 2011, Oiva was bought by restaurant manager Johanna Rönkkö and her spouse. In 2012, Oiva began serving genuine Finnish food again. Its weekday lunches and Sunday brunch are among the most popular in Hakaniemi, Kallio and indeed the entire city. Karaoke has been sung since 1991. Oiva has returned to its roots.