written by:
August 22, 2012
Originally published in Open House

What if anyone could set up a cafe or a bar in their home, serving strangers specials du jour from their own kitchens? In Finland and beyond, a grassroots movement called Restaurant Day is growing.

Restaurant Day in Finland
Residents serve anything they wish, ferrying the food by any number of ways—from lowering sandwiches by basket to inviting patrons into their homes and handing them plates.
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Tokyo Kitchen on Restaurant Day
On Restaurant Day, customers find restaurants’ addresses online, and pay around $12 per person. Photo by Roy Backstrom.
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Restaurant Day in Finland
Residents serve anything they wish, ferrying the food by any number of ways—from lowering sandwiches by basket to inviting patrons into their homes and handing them plates.

“There are a lot of regulations in Finland, particularly for establishments serving food,” says Timo Santala, who alongside friends Antti Tuomola and Olli Sirén decided to hatch a plan that would allow any citizen, for one day only, the chance to indulge in a very common daydream—opening a restaurant of one’s own—without worrying about the rules. “We were three people who were good at getting people excited about things, organizing everything from festivals to urban interventions.”

Tokyo Kitchen on Restaurant Day
On Restaurant Day, customers find restaurants’ addresses online, and pay around $12 per person. Photo by Roy Backstrom.
The trio planted the idea on Facebook and watched it explode. “We didn’t ask permission; we just encouraged normal people who are enthusiastic about food,” Santala recalls. “It could be referred to as a sort of slight civil disobedience.”

The first Restaurant Day in May 2011 launched with 40 pop-up food depots springing up in 11 different Finnish cities. “People were serving everything from frozen pizza and ‘candies of the season’ to experimentations in mole-cular gastronomy served from a hot-air balloon. Great creativity happens when there are no limits.”

Today the movement has grown to a four-times-per-year event, and Restaurant Day has spread to 19 countries and counting. “The whole atmosphere is about creating a one-day carnival, something extraordinary,” says Santala. “It’s a chance to see how people really live, see how people really eat. The very concept of a traditional Finnish home is changing, and that’s a good thing. We’re trying to change the face of Helsinki completely.”

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