In here nobody seems to be stressed. People come here with red cheeks and in a really good mood. I often feel that the customers are like my children. I would just love to bake them their favourite pastries.
Maunulan Maja is a real treasure, located in the Central Park of Helsinki. Kaija Aalto has been running this cafe for nine years. To Aalto, the most important things are the traditional log cottage atmosphere, the surrounding nature as well as genuineness and unaffectedness. And the wonderful customers of course.
If someone likes a certain bun, I easily think that I have to bake that. Baking still feels like magic to me. I do it with love and care for all the people here.
One can taste the good vibe in the dough. Customers come to Maunulan Maja from the centre of Helsinki and even further; from Eira, Kruununhaka, Töölö and Kallio. It is easy to cycle, ski or walk to the cafe through the Central Park’s routes.
The customers are quite sporty, outdoorsy people and aware of healthy lifestyle, but everyone here just loves the pastry.
Aalto was born in Ostrobothnia, Haapavesi. Her parents had a farm, five children, five cows and chickens, that ran freely all around the garden. Little-Kaija used to collect eggs. She was often looking forward to finding at least 8 eggs to bake a sugar cake.
Then I would sit outdoors on the steps and whip the dough. I still remember all the ingredients. The freshly-made cake was divided equally to everyone. Even without jam or cream it was delicious.
Aalto inherited the art of baking and hosting from home. They ate her mother´s pastry and drank milk from their own farm. Her grandmother had visited the United States when she was 18 years old and held a lunch room for miners. The children grew up with faith in hard work and confidence in their own abilities.
Before starting the business in Maunulan Maja, Aalto had been working for 22 years as a summer camp entrepeneur and winters as a church caretaker. Her business started with a good vibe right from the beginning. As a new entrepreneur Aalto was examining a beautiful bowl at a flea market. Aalto told the sales girls about the idea of the cafe, and the girls got excited. They studied interior design and promised to come and make the cafe beautiful.
The girls had an eye for interior design and they cleaned up the place and made the chosen furniture and the special features of the log cottage stand out.
Since then, the customers are also participating in decorating the cafe. Aalto is very proud to present a Finnish mobile decoration made of straw and handmade rugs.
The customers say that the only minus is, that the doors aren´t always open. According to Aalto, this is due to the limited resources: the kitchen is small and there is little space for cold-storage. If the cafe was always open, the product quality and the atmosphere might suffer.
I don´t want to give up on the idea of homemade products.
Even though the idea of following trends makes Aalto smile, her special energy drink could easily fit the drink selection of the trendy bars in the city centre. The blend of fresh ginger, turmeric and lemon makes one feel warm even after hard exercise.
I think simple things are the best, Aalto says.
Aalto’s daughter Heta is helping in the cafe and when needed, so do her niece and a couple other youngsters. During busy days, especially on weekends, she needs four employees to keep things going.
Aalto thinks that the handmade bun dough is a must. She also appreciates to be able to choose what she does, being creative and working hard.
I guess I’ve got some Ostrobothnian spirit of entrepreneurship and a need to be my own boss.
I am always pleased to see the happy faces of the customers, when they enter the cafe. The smell of the freshly baked pastries is very important for this place as well as the old log walls and the interior of an old farm house. The atmosphere here is warm and easy-going. Like in the old days at the countryside.
Maunulan Maja is an over 100 year old building in the midst of the Central Park, easily found via public transportation. Helsingin latu has owned the building since 1960. Different generations can remember the coffees, juices and hot chocolates from over 50 years of time.
The cafe is open: Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. During the summer it is partly closed. Please check the opening hours from: Maunulan Maja website
You can also rent the place for private events. For details look: Helsingin Latu website
Photos: SHL-Sonja Lahtinen
Journalist & Storyteller