Main owners Matti Sarkkinen and Anders Westerholm prefer to be referred to as entrepreneurs.
- That is effectively our role, after all. To be sure, we have proper titles, too. I am the Chair of the Board of Directors at We Are Group, and Matti a full member of the Board. We Are Group is the parent company for five restaurant brands. We have taken on board a few key persons as co-owners, but the majority of the companies are owned by us. There are no investors involved, says Westerholm.
The project to go international began two years ago. First, the company set out to find a suitable location for expansion and settled on the Nordic countries as the most sensible option. After investigations and visits to potential cities, Oslo emerged as the top candidate.
- Oslo has many positive elements, such as a bold and progressive atmosphere and excellent logistical connections. The project also strengthens our Finnish business, as Norway is an importer of high-quality fresh salmon, for example.
- Oslo has many great sushi restaurants, but otherwise the competitive landscape is comparable to that in Helsinki and less fierce than in Stockholm or Copenhagen. We stand out from other sushi restaurants by our strong Nordic concept and emphasis on environmental sustainability. We work together with WWF Finland and were the first sushi restaurant in the country to make the switch to ASC certified salmon.
- The menu will be localized to a degree, but most items will mainly remain the same as in Finland. Responsibly grown Finnish whitefish could prove to be an exotic hit product in Norway, says Matti Sarkkinen.
The company has wanted to refrain from involving outside investors. Finnvera has guaranteed a bank loan for business expansion, while Business Finland has granted Tempo-funding for investigating options for internationalization. The Finnish Embassy in Norway and the local Business Finland unit have also helped the company gain a foothold in Oslo.
- The assistance by Business Finland has made many things possible. Expanding internationally means rethinking our infrastructure and logistics and requires a great deal of investigative work. We need to rework our approach as we expand our turf, Westerholm sums up.
- Tempo-funding focuses on developing companies' expertise in internationalization. Sushibar+Wine is a great example of the kind of success is possible with the funding. It is no small feat for Finnish restaurants to expand abroad, and we are happy to have helped along the way. We will also gladly continue our cooperation in the future, says Aleksej Leppänen, Senior Advisor at Business Finland.
Westerholm views entries to further new markets with caution.
- We have aspirations, but right now the smart thing to do is to focus on this first expansion. Our road map is planned out, and our Nordic heritage plays a strong part in it.
Westerholm wonders why more Finnish companies have not made a presence in Norway.
- Norway offers a lot of potential for Finnish businesses. Like Finns, Norwegians are family-centered, active and love the outdoors. Our way of thinking is similar, and unlike the relationship with Sweden, we don't see one another as competitors.
The restaurant also has the goal to be a great employer.
- Our Employee Experience Manager will begin work at the turn of the year. The role is comparable to a HR manager, but we want to use this title to highlight our company's excellent human resources policy.
Text: Eero Lukin
Katja Eriksen's blog:
If you want to break into Norway, pick up the phone