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Pupusaari is a pandemic-proof café concept

How do you open a new café literally as the Covid-19 pandemic shut the doors for dining in? With a strong vision, an ability to see beyond obstacles, pure determination and a cold head based on experience. And a little help from food tech to do kitchen management with solid processes, business intelligence and safety as the guiding principles. Not with any hint of doubt, pinch of despair or even a grain of paralysis.

Pupusaari (transl. ‘Rabbit island’) is a welcome breath of foodie air in the shape of two local cafés in the suburbia of Espoo, Finland. The brainchild and dream of Linda Mustakari, her husband Juhani Kähönen and their friend Anna Viinikka, Pupusaari was to designed to become a space where the local community would be brought together to enjoy breakfast, lunch and tapas (called ‘Pupukset’) with an exceptional cup of freshly ground coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice or a thoughtfully selected glass of wine.

The idea is to embrace the potential of suburbs as a counterforce to massive shopping malls and the sameness of their food service offerings.

Despite the way things were looking as the launch date approached and the opening celebrations were cancelled due to government-driven restrictions related to Covid-19 in Finland, the vision turned into reality. But in a very different and unexpected way.

Giving up not an option

The Pupusaari take-away cups are little pieces of art!

The stylishly colorful and social media-friendly decor (including funky take-away cups!), food and drinks concept, and marketing strategy were ready to go just in time for the scheduled launch of Pupusaari’s first cafe in late March, 2020. What did Linda and Juhani think and do when the Finnish Government announced in early April that cafés and restaurants would not be able to have guests dine in?

“I can’t really remember the feeling. We had planned everything carefully and I just knew it would be a success. Obviously we had to do some rethinking but we never even thought about giving up. One of our first thoughts was that we needed to think bigger on our take-away option, ASAP”, said Linda.  

The original launch date was pushed further by just two weeks and then the doors opened, on April 17th, as everything in the world was changing and adjusting in unexpected ways to respond to life in the midst of a global pandemic.

Sold out, every day

Digital kitchen management has helped keep food and customer safety top of mind in all kitchen tasks.

From the first opening day for Pupusaari in the Kivenlahti suburb, lunch was sold out daily for two months. Many people were suddenly working from home, and the daily trip to pick up a delicious lunch from their new local café became a welcome and necessary daily diversion – a key event in the day of many an office worker turned work-from-home employee.

Queues were a normal, daily sight at Pupusaari as people became regular customers. “The pandemic wasn’t a bad thing for us as a café, at all. It was actually almost like a blessing in disguise. Obviously I had to do a lot of number-crunching every day, but I think that’s normal,” Linda recounts.

It’s all about good kitchen management

Pupusaari was busy right from day one, regardless of the pandemic.

As an experienced entrepreneur, Linda had prepared a solid business plan. With her Pupusaari CEO husband, Juhani, they wanted to ensure that all the kitchen management processes, from daily cleaning tasks to food waste monitoring, would be managed and run efficiently. Digitally.

The benefits of such an approach would allow kitchen staff to better focus on their own core tasks, new or temporary kitchen staff would be able to onboard quickly and business decisions could be made based on intelligence and real-time data gathered from daily operations.

Fredman’s Chefstein® application was the digital kitchen management solution appointed for managing the daily operations based on efficiency goals.

Chefstein® as the conscientious workmate

Passion for precision at its best.

The traditional pen & paper management system was never part of the plan at Pupusaari. Starting from day one with a digital process laid out shared expectations and rules for completing daily tasks and ways of communicating within the team. Although a digital kitchen management application and the benefits it could offer were completely new to many of the experienced professionals, common ways of working were (and still are) defined and adopted and using Chefstein® is now a natural part of the normal workday for Pupusaari staff.

In some cases, the good old pen & paper combination still has its place, but the value of Chefstein® is acknowledged by all team members. “Yes, we have gone to the deep end with being as digital as possible”, Linda explains, smiling.

Chefstein® is the first thing that any Pupusaari team member picks up when arriving at work in the morning. It guides them through the set-up tasks, efficiently and in the right order. The same happens at the end of the day as Chefstein® ensures that nothing is missed when closing the cafés. It’s a bit like a good workmate that is there to remind, organize and support throughout the day.

Pupusaari employs a number of people from the local community. Detailed onboarding instructions, formulated as a task list in Chefstein®, have proven to be particularly valuable as there is considerably less time required for training. For younger generations, using a digital application for tasks in a commercial kitchen is second nature and they almost expect to be able to use one at work.

Digital kitchen management for top safety and hygiene

Due to the heightened hygiene and safety demands amidst the pandemic, actions and processes within these areas simply not only had to comply with restrictions and regulations, but the Pupusaari team also needed to exceed customer expectations to win and keep their loyalty.

In addition to being a comprehensive digital kitchen management solution, Chefstein® turned out to be a helpful addition to turn hygiene and safety measures into an asset for Pupusaari. All-around cleanliness and sparkling, germ-free work surfaces were one of the key requirements for opening her own restaurants for Linda.

The daily task list currently includes various hygiene and cleaning tasks involving disinfectant. With the help of Chefstein®, and its add-on Bluetooth temperature and hygiene devices and sensors for automation and digitalization, Pupusaari’s critical hygiene and safety processes, as well as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) processes were top-level, right from the start.

Linda is looking forward to showing the data gathered by Chefstein® via various measurements during a health inspector visit as part of the compulsory self-monitoring practices.

Analysis of daily kitchen operations, in a hammock

Customers can leave positive, feel-good notes inside a frame on the wall at one of the Pupusaari cafés.

As a new business that launched in the most challenging times, it is important to keep an eye on various figures and act as soon as anything alarming, or any exceptions emerge. Linda confesses to being the sort of person that loves to create and analyze with various Excel spreadsheets. Chefstein® feeds her number-crunching passion with real-time data and intelligence presented through the customizable Chefstein® dashboards. Linda really appreciates the fact that she can do this while lying in her hammock!

“What you don’t measure, you don’t know. I believe that this is one of the biggest reasons that businesses go down in this industry,” Linda says.

Going into its 8th month of being in business, Linda has already been able to take several corrective actions based on data gathered through Chefstein®. Monitoring food waste by weight and type has provided useful information on which products aren’t as popular as expected, and adjustments reflecting this have been made. Fluctuations in the completion of tasks can signify issues in processes or instructions. She sees the potential of Chefstein® in ensuring that employee wellbeing is always in focus.

“Our efficiency levels have been excellent. And, to be honest, they have to be. Nobody can afford to have people working if there are no customers,” Linda explains. This is a particularly sensitive topic in the current times. Linda’s main concern is to make sure all her coworkers will have work at Pupusaari, no matter how the global situation will develop.

Dreaming big: Pupusaari bistro & chain in the works

A regular customer base solidified quickly.

Linda’s determination, with her feet firmly on the ground, is both admirable and contagious. The second Pupusaari was opened in the Soukka suburb, in Espoo, at the end of July. When asked about the future of Pupusaari – will it be a chain, will there be restaurants in Helsinki (as requested by many), will it become a franchise business? – Linda has it all figured out.

“Yes, we are definitely planning to open more Pupusaari venues in the future. We are working with a bistro concept already now and as per our five-year plan I’m hoping that we will get to open several new Pupusaaris. Central Helsinki, however, is not on our radar. Our aim is to embrace the suburbs in cities and help them and their communities to bloom.”

Linda sees Chefstein® as a key tool for any food service business as it can help streamline chain operations, where an identical concept is to be recreated in different locations.

We are inspired. In addition to being brave, positive, determined and clearly successful, Pupusaari has already settled in the hearts, minds and daily routines of the local Soukka and Kivenlahti residents. Opening a colorful, laid-back, fun and upbeat café in the midst of a global crisis must have been just what these communities needed. Here’s wishing that we will see more of the Pupusaari vibe in other suburbs of Finland, soon!

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