Pasta-annos höyryää ravintola Vespinossa, kuva Salla Karhumaa

Responsibility is a competitive edge for Riipinen Restaurants when hiring seasonal workers

Environmental values stand out in Ruka when operating in the middle of nature

When Riipinen Restaurants converted the positive changes in their food waste into euros, the staff recreation fund grew by ten thousand. Henrik Riipinen, who leads the family business, believes that as today’s youth grow up, responsibility will become an increasingly significant criterion for both customers and employees.

Tourism in Ruka-Kuusamo is founded upon the region’s magnificent natural attractions. Hence, the promotion of responsible tourism is especially important for local tourism businesses. Through the Sustainable Travel Finland program (STF) by Visit Finland, companies can incorporate sustainable practices and responsible choices into their daily operations.

Riipinen Restaurants had been engaging in responsible practices even before the STF program, although initially, the interest was largely economic. For instance, food waste was recognized as equivalent to throwing money away. When food waste began to be tracked and quantified in euros through the STF program, the results even surprised seasoned restaurateurs.

There are seven Riipinen Restaurants. In Ruka, these include Restaurant Vespino, Pizzeria Ruka, Kotipizza Ruka-Kuusamo, RUOK Burger, and Subway Ruka and Kuusamo. Last season, Riipinen expanded their operations to Pyhätunturi by opening another Italian restaurant, Restaurant Popolo. In the first year of the STF program, the combined waste of the restaurants was equivalent to 40,000 euros. Three years later, it has decreased to 18,000 euros — even though the lineup has grown with two new restaurants.

— If we had done nothing as restaurant volume increased, relative to sales, we would have been throwing away 60,000 euros a year. In the first year, we decided to put all the money saved by reducing waste into staff parties — the savings were 10,000 euros, says Henrik Riipinen, who is steering the family business in his father's footsteps.

Food waste causes unnecessary environmental burden when the energy and resources consumed in food production and the emissions from manufacturing turn out to be unjustified. Although the amount of waste in the restaurants has not been tracked in kilograms or emissions, the financial figures suggest a significant environmental impact.

Pizzeria Rukan ihana kesäterassi

Locally produced ingredients

Riipinen Restaurants has always favored locally produced, domestic ingredients. Fish comes from Kuusamon Kala, reindeer products from Rönkä in Kemi-Tornio, and the beef for RUOK Burger's hamburgers is from Sodankylä.

— We aim to increasingly pick organic and locally produced ingredients and also choose partners who invest in responsibility, Riipinen shares.

Riipinen’s restaurants also include chain restaurants such as Subway and Kotipizza. While Kotipizza has a high degree of domesticity, the ingredients for the global Subway chain come from other EU countries. Since Subway cannot influence producers in a single country, the focus on responsibility includes increasing the recycling rate, optimizing energy consumption, and reducing raw material waste.

After joining the STF program, everything possible is recycled in the restaurants, a step up from only recycling part of the waste previously. Riipinen is pleased that, thanks to Lassila & Tikanoja’s waste management and recycling services, a solution has finally been found for plastic recycling for businesses in the Ruka-Kuusamo area.

Ravintola Vespinosta saa herkullista kahvia. Kuva Salla Karhumaa

Energy saving during peak months equals the electricity consumption of three detached houses 

According to Riipinen, the hardest part of the STF program was getting started.

— Once you just start doing and breaking the work into parts, you realize it’s not a sprint to the finish and a stamp on the paper. Responsibility must be integrated into daily activities.

The first three-year environmental program is now nearing its end. Although initially skeptical about the necessity of data collection, seeing the results now brings a smile.

For example, during the spring heating season when electricity prices were at their highest, energy consumption in the restaurants was reduced by 15–20 % compared to the previous year. While the combined consumption last year was 50,000 kWh during the busiest spring months, this year it was 7,500 kWh less. This equates to about three detached houses' monthly electricity consumption.

Electricity usage was reduced by adjusting the temperature settings of machines and equipment. Cleaning was also more diligently managed. Ovens and stoves were only turned on in the restaurants when necessary.

— Now we see how many things we have done over the last three years and how they have impacted the overall picture. In the fall, we will analyze the results and update the goals for the next period.

Asiakaspalvelua ravintola Vespinossa. Kuva Salla Karhumaa.

Responsibility is a competitive edge when hiring seasonal workers 

In places where operations are conducted amid nature, issues of responsibility inevitably come to the forefront; both customers and employees are drawn to the Ruka area to enjoy the surrounding nature and the various national parks.

— Responsibility is about nurturing local life. We understand that we cannot destroy the nature surrounding us, Riipinen states.

Responsibility is also a competitive factor. If there are two products priced the same and one is responsible, customers are more likely to choose that one. Even if the responsible product is more expensive, it might still be chosen.

— I believe this trend will strengthen as young people who value responsibility grow up.

Riipinen's restaurants employ about 35–40 permanent staff members. An equal number of seasonal workers are hired annually. Many of them are young people at the beginning of their careers, who come to Ruka for nature activities. For them, the company's responsibility can also be a criterion in their job search.

— Responsibility affects whether a company attracts customers and good employees. If employees are interested in responsibility issues, they usually care about providing high-quality service to customers and preparing food well, Riipinen states.

Read more:
Sustainable Tourism in Ruka-Kuusamo
Restaurant Vespino, Pizzeria Ruka, Kotipizza Ruka, RUOK Burger and Subway Ruka

Published: 10.6.2024
Text: Pauliina Toivanen
Photos: Pizzeria Ruka (Harri Tarvainen, Ruka-Kuusamo Tourist Association) and Restaurant Vespino (Salla Karhumaa, Ruka-Kuusamo Tourist Association).