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Over 120 vendors took to the park on the Esplanade in Helsinki on Saturday afternoon to hawk everything from cookies to pad thai, to pho to halva; from Carthage to Karelia, global food culture was on display.
But while the sun was warm, the atmosphere felt cold, chillier than the Restaurant Day I visited last November.
“It sucks, because this is my only source of income,” remarked a disappointed vendor upon the news that the popular event has been downgraded to a yearly event. “I am only a student and this is my eleventh time selling my cupcakes, I bake all week and frost the day before I sell them.”
The budding cupcake magnate was not alone in her dismay over the reduction of the event. For many immigrant families, Restaurant Day is a not just a food festival but a day to “make bank” as another sweets seller added.
A Finnish tax accountant confided that being a small business owner is not an easy task in Finland, as mountains of paperwork must be constantly filed and few if any tax breaks exist to aid women and minorities to open businesses unlike in the United States.
Restaurant Day gives would be entrepreneurs a day to test drive the market with little risk, apart from spoilage of unsold product. While vendors sell from late morning to early evening, their Restaurant day starts at midnight the day before as they drive up to the park and pick a coveted spot for the next day’s festivities. They return at 6:00 in the morning to set up in earnest and begin a twelve-hour slog that they hope will result in a handsome profit.
Yesterday’s attendance was high, as bus tours dumped eager tourists on side streets and happy locals lined up for treats that are otherwise unavailable.
As lucky dogs feasted on the cast offs of full patrons, there was a palpable sadness in the air as those that frequent Restaurant Day as vendors or eager eaters know this will be the last kick at the can for another twelve months.
Finnish foodies will be hungrily waiting for May 2017.