The Finnish Bistro in St. Anthony Park is looking for a fresh start by bringing back some familiar flavor.
Former manager Sandra Weise purchased the neighborhood gathering spot at 2246 Como Ave. from longtime owner and friend Soile Anderson. Weise assumed all operations March 6.
The first change customers may have already noticed is a new menu. The bistro recently experimented with a more gourmet menu. Weise says it was not well received. One of her first decisions as owner was to bring back bistro-style offerings, focusing on soup, salad and sandwich combinations.
The popular all-day breakfast and the kids’ menu have also reappeared on the menu. Other family-friendly offerings such as an antique scale so children can “pay what they weigh” are in the works as well.
Weise is playing to adult appetites too. She plans to expand the craft beer selection and host wine tastings. Live music will also be more frequent, especially on the weekends when Weise plans to extend nighttime hours to 10 p.m. She is looking for ways to take full advantage of what she calls “the best patio in St. Paul.”
As the head of Deco Catering, one of the Twin Cities’ premiere catering businesses, Anderson acknowledged it has been hard to commit the time and attention she would have liked to the restaurant.
“My catering is so busy and I always felt like I should have spent more time with the Finnish Bistro. That’s why I think it’s nice to have a person who [will be] there 100 percent,” Anderson said.
Weise is the first to acknowledge the restaurant has floundered at times without consistent leadership in recent years. But she is pledging her allegiance to the community as she works to rebuild the bistro’s reputation. “
This is a very tight community and they will boycott you,” Weise said.
She’s right. John Lentsch, 62, of St. Anthony Park, is a regular at the bistro and said when the menu switched over recently he and his brother stopped coming for a period. Nonetheless, he is happy with the latest menu change and remains a strong supporter of the restaurant.
“I think if every little neighborhood had something like this, it would improve the city immensely,” Lentsch said.
Other than her brief stint as the bistro’s manager in 2009, Weise is a social worker by trade. Most recently working for United Way, she thinks the skills she developed working for nonprofits for nearly 15 years will serve her well in her new role.
“I’m philanthropic and I’m community based. I want to be a community staple, and not just for food,” Weise said. She won’t be going at it alone. Anderson plans to play an active role as a close mentor to Weise and may even stop by periodically to whip up a special or two.
The Finnish Bistro was originally part of the Taste of Scandinavia Bakeries chain founded by Anderson in 1990. She sold all but the St. Anthony Park location to Festival Foods in 1994. The restaurant became the Finnish Bistro in 2005 when it moved across the street from its previous location in the lower level of Milton Square to the corner of Carter and Como avenues.
For now, Weise is keeping the name, but said she might be open to a rebranding in 2014. The bistro is staying put though. Weise wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I can’t say I would own a restaurant or bistro anywhere else,” she says. “It was as if the opportunity came for me to buy this restaurant at this location. I don’t want to own another one. I like this neighborhood.”
Kyle Mianulli is a freelance journalist and former editor of the Badger Herald at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also writes for the St. Anthony Park Community Council.