This Revolutionary Finnish Restaurant Is 100% Zero-Waste
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This Revolutionary Finnish Restaurant Is 100% Zero-Waste

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By Duncan Nielsen
In Helsinki, Nolla serves up organic, locally sourced fare in a Michelin-tiered dining experience—all without trash cans.

The restaurant’s philosophy is baked into its name. Meaning "zero" in Finnish, Nolla is setting a new gold standard for sustainability in the industry by attempting to eliminate all of its waste—no single use plastics, no vacuum-sealed food items, and no trash cans to put them in. Any small amount of scraps from the kitchen are composted into soil and returned to distributors to grow new food.

Nolla's prix fixe meals are locally sourced with a focus on seasonal ingredients. Optional beverage pairings include site-brewed beer, wines, and cocktails.

Nolla's prix fixe meals are locally sourced with a focus on seasonal ingredients. Optional beverage pairings include site-brewed beer, wines, and cocktails.

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"The idea of a zero-waste restaurant was born out of our desire to make the restaurant industry more sustainable, and show that creative and great food can go hand in hand with sustainability," say founders Carlos Henriques, Luka Balac, and Albert Franch Sunyer, who all spent years as chefs at renowned Helsinki restaurants before opening a place of their own. They started by simply asking suppliers to rethink packaging, encouraging multiuse containers for things like eggs and produce.  

Nolla was created by three chefs who met at Helsinki's Michelin-starred Olo—Carlos Henriques, Luka Balac, and Albert Franch Sunyer.

Nolla was created by three chefs who met at Helsinki's Michelin-starred Olo—Carlos Henriques, Luka Balac, and Albert Franch Sunyer.

By offering a prix fixe menu (there are a couple of tiers, but the all-in option tops out at about $100), the restaurant can predict how much food to order for each night's service. The fare is a mouthwatering combination of the chefs' regional cuisines (Portuguese–born chef Carlos Henriques has a famous piri-piri chicken) and dishes popular in and around Finland, like baked sturgeon. The beer is brewed on-site, and though the wine may travel a bit farther, it's crafted by eco-friendly producers.

Finland is well known for sturgeon and other kinds of whitefish. A colorful garden-fresh salad is served on beautiful ceramics.

Finland is well known for sturgeon and other kinds of whitefish. A colorful garden-fresh salad is served on beautiful ceramics.

These practices make everyone happy. By aiming for zero-waste, the restaurant and its producers operate in symbiosis, saving money at every turn; Customers get a high level of service and quality at a reasonable price point. This idea is backed up by a report published by Champions 12.3 (a coalition of executives from governments, businesses, and research organizations) showing that for every dollar a restaurant invests in sustainability, they save seven dollars.

Nolla doesn't pass out paper menus to its guests. Instead, daily options and specials are written on a chalkboard.

Nolla doesn't pass out paper menus to its guests. Instead, daily options and specials are written on a chalkboard.

Chef Carlos Henriques has a famous piri-piri chicken recipe, which is distinctly Portuguese. The menu combines the flare of each chef's regional specialties with Finland's culinary traditions.

Chef Carlos Henriques has a famous piri-piri chicken recipe, which is distinctly Portuguese. The menu combines the flare of each chef's regional specialties with Finland's culinary traditions.

Diners at Nolla won't notice a difference on the surface, though—and that's part of the point. The restaurant doesn't want to preach, they just want to quietly address an endemic waste problem while providing a top-tier dining experience. If you visit, be sure to get a gift card for a friend—they're made of a compostable paper pulp, and after they've been redeemed they can be planted to grow poppies.

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