UniCafe, the student-owned cafe chain, is celebrating an important anniversary: It has now been 70 years since its first student restaurant was founded
On the 7th of September, it will be 70 years since the Student Union of the University of Helsinki’s restaurant business was founded. Today, UniCafe is one of the largest student restaurant chains in Finland and is particularly known for its strong sustainable development stance.
This year, UniCafe, the cafe chain owned by HYY, the Student Union of the University of Helsinki, celebrates its 70th anniversary. HYY’s restaurant business started in the 1950s out of necessity. The city had nowhere where students could get food that was both affordable and nutritious enough for their needs.
The social significance of food has not declined in the past 70 years – on the contrary, it has done the opposite.
“The availability of affordable and nutritious food has a direct impact on people’s wellbeing. Food is also a significant climate issue. Approximately one fifth of the average Finn’s carbon footprint comes from food. We want to be at the forefront of the food revolution and blaze the trail with our own actions,” says Ylva’s Business Director Anne Immonen.
In 2019, UniCafe was the centre of attention when the chain completely abandoned the use of beef. Last year, the chain calculated the carbon footprint of all its meals ingredient by ingredient and opened its first entirely vegan restaurant. UniCafe aims to be carbon-neutral by 2025.
UniCafe’s story began at Domus Academica
After the Winter and Continuation Wars, students in Helsinki found themselves struggling to find a place where they could get “proper food for a low price”. In 1951, an editorial in the student newspaper suggested that HYY could solve this problem by running its own affordable student restaurant.
On HYY’s initiative, a restaurant was opened in Domus Academica’s C building in the autumn of 1952. It was run by Miss Ester Wahlman and was required to offer students “nutritious and cheap food”. A year after the restaurant was opened, HYY took up maintenance of the establishment. HYY’s restaurant business expanded in the 1960s and 70s, first into central Helsinki, then onto the university’s other campuses. The cafes were brought under the UniCafe brand in 1988.
“Today, UniCafe has 17 restaurants and cafes and provides catering services on all the University of Helsinki’s campuses. However, the core mission of the chain has not changed. Our goal is still to offer students tasty, nutritious and affordable food,” Immonen says.
Although the anniversary celebrations are in the autumn, the 70th anniversary year will be visible in various ways in UniCafe restaurants throughout 2023.
Citations: Aalto, Sari. Opiskelijaruokailun tekijät: Oy UniCafe Ab 1953–2003. Gaudeamus, Helsinki 2003.
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