In 1946 a baker called Einari Virjo founded a bakery right in the heart of Helsinki. He needed a name and decided to spin the globe and point his finger wherever it might land. His finger landed in a small exotic island in the Pacific and the bakery was named Eromanga.
Around the same time, a couple called Sirkka and Åke Snellman ran a small market stall cafe under Helsinki’s Cathedral that served coffee and pastries. They had a small helper; their daughter Anja.
The market stall cafe ran in their blood. Åke’s grandmother had sold coffee in the market next to Helsinki’s Railway Station in the 1800-century.
The Snellman family bought their bread and pastries from baker Virjo. After running the stall for a few years, Åke offered to buy the bakery – he negotiated for years, and finally the Snellman family bought it bakery in 1975.
Anja Snellman continued her family’s tradition with the café and the market stall. The small orange tent in the market hosted guests all over the world such as Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher, who changed her high heels to more comfortable ones sitting in the cafe chairs!
These days Eromanga Cafe in Makasiinikatu is a meeting spot for all kinds of townsfolk, and the doors are opened every weekday at dawn, 6.30 am. The famous market stall was closed in 2011.
Anja is now the sole owner entrepreneur of the café – she arrives each morning at 3.30 am to get everything ready for the opening at 6.30. The bakers arrive at 1.30 am to bake fresh bread and pastries for the morning rush of office workers, civil servants and construction workers – they all live off the strong, freshly brewed coffee and delicious, really delicious, meat pies. These pies look like sweet doughnuts but are in fact one of the best savoury dishes in Helsinki! No other bakery has managed to copy them successfully.
You correspondent can recall sinking his teeth into the crisp outer layer and savoring the delicious meat inside under their tent in market square in 1967 as he arrived for the first time in Helsinki off the Baltic Steamship Line from London! The quality of the pies has remained the same even though the tent is closed and you now have to walk to their café just 400 meters away onPohjoinen Makasiinikatu 6.
… and you can well ask why Anja is still working and coming into the bakery at 3.30 am every morning at the age of 71 years old – who said you cannot ask a lady her age!?
The answer came absolutely loud and clear, “I cannot afford to pay the double salaries the unions demand for staff to come in early – so, as the owner, I am forced to come in. It is little wonder that unemployment is so high when work must be done but the cost is way above what small companies can afford.”
It is fine for owners of small cafes and other small companies to work long days but not ordinary staff! There are few places in the world where foolish employment protection is taken to such extremes in this globalised world.
One cannot only respect the diligence and honesty of people like Anja. If you are in Helsinki pay here a visit!