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Mumin Kaffe opens doors for everyone

Mumin Kaffe co-founder Sanna KiiskiSakari Piippo

Mumin Kaffe café chain wants to create a space where everyone feels welcome – and confusing Moomins with hippos is cool, too.

Buggies are parked by tables in a café that has windows the size of walls, letting in the rare glimpses of Helsinki’s October sunshine. Children are laughing in the play area, and a woman wearing an apron is serving a cinnamon bun to a customer looking to satisfy a sweet tooth. Steam flows out of a mug decorated with Moomin characters and filled with tea that smells and tastes like blueberry muffins.

Sound like any coffee shop around the corner? Not so much.

“I know what it’s like to go to a café with children,” Mumin Kaffe founder Sanna Kiiski says. “It’s a pretty sweaty, nerve-wrecking experience, and sometimes you can feel really unwelcome.”

At Mumin Kaffe, things are different. Children are particularly well received, to the point that staff serves kids first and adults last. No one’s complaining about happy screams or occasional signs of upset.

Kiiski, mother of three, created the café concept under very unfortunate circumstances. Her son had been diagnosed with cancer, which meant uncountable hours, days, weeks and months at the hospital. Kiiski had time to think about new directions – and the experience brought along much more confidence and courage.

“As long as it’s not a matter of life and death, everything is worth a shot,” she explains. “I’ve become hungry for trying out new things and allergic to categorisations and assumptions that stop people from pursuing their dreams.”

“What are these hippos?”

Now Kiiski’s child has recovered, and she keeps busy with various projects. One of them is Mumin Kaffe, which now has five branches in Finland and one in Stockholm and is rapidly spreading to new locations.

The idea to add Moomins to the café chain’s brand came from Kiiski’s friend, designer Tiia Vanhatapio. She, having worked with Moomin characters before, brought the owners of Moomin creator Tove Jansson’s heritage and Mumin Kaffe founders to the same table. The signed contract gives Mumin Kaffe a license to use Moomin characters in Europe and a few other countries.

Hot beverages are, of course, served in official Moomin mugs. Image: Mumin Kaffe / Facebook

Moomins, of course, add to the intrigue raised by the cafés. However, not everyone dropping by for a hot drink or a glass of juice are familiar with the creatures.

“We’ve had people ask, ‘What are these hippos?’,” Kiiski tells. “We’ve responded by telling the original Moomin story about how they were captured and taken to a zoo because they were mistaken for hippos then, too.”

So not only are the cafés taking advantage of Moomins’ reputation: they are also introducing the dearly beloved stories, as well as Jansson’s wide range of other art, to those who haven’t stumbled across them before.

The main markets are those where Moomins are already popular. The next café will open in Rovaniemi, Lapland, and Tallinn is in the queue for next year.

Other Nordic countries as well as the UK are known for their fondness of the Moomins, but Kiiski won’t shine a light on future locations as of yet. She does reveal that for Mumin Kaffe, a bit like for Moomintroll, the earth is full of wonders.

“We’re full of enthusiasm and the world is wide open,” Kiiski notes. “Our plans are big: in five years, 50 branches around the world, and not just in Europe.”

CVs don’t matter

Mumin Kaffe is owned by three people, one of them being Kiiski herself, and currently it has about 30 staff members. Kiiski estimates that about 70 per cent of the people working in the cafés are over 50 years old – and it’s no accident.

“We’re always looking to recruit those who’ve struggled to find work, like long-term unemployed and older people,” she explains. “Now we’re finding ways to offer jobs to people with disabilities.”

This will be the case wherever Mumin Kaffe goes. For Kiiski, it’s extremely important to be able to contribute to the wellbeing of others whenever possible.

“It’s not about helping, when both parties are on the receiving end,” she points out. “It’s about providing opportunities to those who can help you back.”

Kiiski also deems herself very lucky. Not only did her little boy get incredible care for almost no cost when he was ill, she also points out that she’s a white female living in a Western society with democratic values.

“I’m so lucky with all of my privileges that there are loads of reasons for me to do as much as I can,” she says. “I’ve been given so much that I want to be able to give, too.”

Taina Hassinen serves customers at one of the Mumin Kaffes in central Helsinki. Image: Sakari Piippo
By: Anne Salomäki