And there it is, the name for cinnamon rolls in Kenya.
Kirwa is partly to blame for the expansion of the small Lahti-based bakery, Helenan kotileipomo, to Kenya to sell "Maasai ears" to Nairobians.
As he was visiting his friends Sanna and Tero Jaak-
kola, who had recently returned from a safari, the discussion turned to their bakery business, with the Jaakkolas jokingly saying that they would be prepared to work in Kenya. Kirwa, however, was dead serious about establishing a bakery in his country of birth.
The idea was conceived in January, and in May Sanna and Tero Jaakkola travelled to Nairobi to survey the situation. Now, the entrepreneurs have a premises for the bakery and the first sales locations earmarked.
Their local bakery manager is training in Finland while the dough divider, sales cart and other necessary equipment are on their way to Kenya in a shipping container.
A foray into Africa is quite the leap for a company with annual net sales of less than 500,000 euros that operates solely in the Lahti region.
However, the Jaakkolas are not interested in taking over Finland. The expansion process is difficult, the regulatory jungle and red tape bothersome, and investments in equipment and facilities very expensive, the couple list.
The costs of setting up a bakery in Nairobi are substantially lower: an oven that costs 9,000 euros in Finland costs no more than 1,600 euros in the Kenyan capital.
Kirwa has facilitated the process with his local connections and helped the couple find a suitable bakery manager in Joy Tum.
The hands of the 36-year-old Nairobian are covered in flour as she kneads a lump of dough into the shape of a meat pasty on a steel table in Lahti. Tum has studied hotel and restaurant management in Kenya and has work experience with two education institutions. Most recently, she ran the kitchen of a high school.
She is spending two weeks in Lahti baking from early dawn to learn the secrets behind Finnish jelly doughnuts, meat pasties, cinnamon rolls and Karelian pasties.
The jam-filled jelly doughnut is her personal favourite. "I can't make it exactly right quite yet, but I do like eating them," she admits. The cinnamon rolls she pulls out of the oven, in turn, have received compliments from the local customers.
Tum has already scheduled job interviews with four bakers in Nairobi and is also responsible for hiring a driver and a shop assistant.
The Finnish delicacies will be available under the brand name Helena's Goodies at a busy kiosk located in the basement of a church, the canteen of a nearby school and a separate sales cart. In addition, preliminary negotiations over the possibility of adding the products to the menu of the major café chain Java House have been held.
"The Kenyans love sweet: they even put a lot of sugar in their tea. Yet, there are no similar products available," highlights Kirwa.
At present, locals with a sweet tooth must choose between a flat bread called chapati and a fried bread called mandazi. Doughnuts are only available here and there, while muffins – known as queen cakes – are tiny.
"The meat pasty will definitely be a hit. Kenyans like meat," says Tum.
Sanna and Tero Jaakkola are similarly brimming with confidence following their visit to Kenya in May.
"The demand is there. The cafés there are crowded. There's no shortage of potential customers, whereas Lahti only has 100,000 residents. There was also an endless line of people in front of the canteen that will be one of our sales locations. It's a boarding school where people spend three months. The children are from wealthy families and have plenty of pocket change," tells Sanna Jaakkola.
In Kenya, both the population and middle class are growing, similarly to elsewhere in Africa.
"Kenya is a strategically important target. If you manage to break through and succeed there, you can do so in all of East Africa. The Chinese are already there. We're on the move at just the right time," estimates Kirwa.
The owners have already laid out further expansion plans.
As soon as their business in Nairobi begins to turn a profit, they want to set up their own café, or even a chain of cafés, there. "It's also our dream to expand in Lahti, where we would like to have our own café Hopefully, Kenya will help us achieve that and we can invest the profits in Lahti," adds Tero Jaakkola.
Today, the products of Helenan kotileipomo are available at the bakery shop, the marketplace, a sales cart and partner shops.
While Sanna and Tero Jaakkola are hungry for success in Kenya, their business partner Kirwa also has an ideological vision. Equality, he says, was a key factor in the decision to hire a woman as the local manager, and the bakery will place great emphasis on environmental issues.
"Finnish companies need courage, even a small company can move abroad. No fear, just joy and enthusiasm," he adds.
Yet, the venture will not be without its challenges, Kirwa concedes. "The concept of time is more flexible [in Kenya]. There is a deep-rooted oral tradition, unlike in Finland. Finns accept responsibility immediately and start working. In Kenya, you have to be present and engage in lengthy discussions."
It will be the responsibility of Tum to pass on the skills she has learnt in Lahti to the local employees. "They will learn. After all, they're all trained bakers. You only have to teach certain special skills," she assures.
Piia Elonen – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
© HELSINGIN SANOMAT
Image: Sirpa Räihä / HS