An interview with a restaurant sales manager

Today's interview has a very special meaning for me. I met Sanna Könönen, the sales manager of Utran Uittotupa, when Andrey and I were preparing for our wedding in 2016. We chose the restaurant because of the beautiful premises and stunning nature around. It was something totally matching the general concept of our wedding. I remember that I was nervous about our first meeting since I had a very long list of requests and an even longer list of questions. Those lists covered every detail starting from colours of tablecloths and ending with power sources for the musicians playing at our ceremony. I was not sure if it was possible to arrange at least half of the items from each list.
Introducing Sanna Könönen, the sales manager of Utran Uittotupa. (Photo is provided by Sanna.)
Introducing Sanna Könönen, the sales manager of Utran Uittotupa. (Photo is provided by Sanna.)
But then we talked with Sanna… And I realised that everything is going to be fine. I felt that she understood all our needs, supported us. We found in her a very powerful companion for the battle named "The planning of a perfect wedding". Sanna had an answer to every question. For almost all of our requests, she answered: "No problem, we can do that". Or if they could not do something (very little, actually), she gave me advice whom to contact or where to ask… Our wedding was perfect.
Nowadays, when I started to think of a person from the restaurant area, I knew that it is going to be Sanna. So now, presenting you an interview with her I am sure you will like her as much as I do.

About Sanna, the concept of Utran Uittotupa and the team

First of all, please introduce yourself. What is your profession and what is your role here in Utran Uittotupa?
My name is Sanna Könönen and I am the sales manager of Utran Uittotupa. I have been working here for three years. Previously, I was the restaurant manager at Teatteri Ravintola.
My role at Utran Uittotupa is to take care of the wishes of our customers.
Sanna Könönen
Sales Manager at Utran Uittotupa
Emails from the customers usually come to me, then I make offers and show our premises. I talk with the customers, ask about their wishes regarding their events, negotiate. My task is also to translate the client's preferences to the kitchen, for example, if they want to change anything. So, I am the person who is between the kitchen and the customer.
If necessary, I do some waiter work. I collect the reviews from the customers about the events as well, ask if everything was good. I love being with the customers face to face.
What is Utran Uittotupa right now?
We make different types of events, not only weddings or private parties. We arrange business meetings. Firms come and meet with their guests here, enjoy the sauna and have dinner. Also, we invite artists to perform at the Sorvaamo hall. Actually, quite many open events happen here, for example, family events like Laskiaiskarnevaali or Pääsiäisbrunssi (the Easter brunch) that took place on the 21st of April.
The idea is that our guests feel that they are truly welcomed here and they are taken care of.
Sanna Könönen
Sales Manager at Utran Uittotupa
I have noticed that all the events happening here have some common concept. What is the overall idea of this place?
Well... It is very important for us to bring experience to our customers. It includes food, these premises and good service. We say: "Experience with all senses". What you see, what you feel, what you eat and drink, all of it should blend into a unified experience.
Nature and our location are perfect. There are the islands of Utra and the river Pielisjoki around. Beautiful nature and all our buildings make a great combination. And we are located only six kilometres away from the centre of Joensuu.
It is very important that all the people who work here think the same way. The idea is that our guests feel that they are truly welcomed here and they are taken care of.
View on Utran Uittotupa from the islands of Utra.
View on Utran Uittotupa from the islands of Utra.
How many people work here?
We have a small count of personnel here since we mainly work upon reservations. There are two offices. One is this place and the other one is a lunch restaurant on Voimatie. All our food is made there and then transported as there is no proper kitchen here. That's why our chef and the cooks always cater. We also offer a real catering in other places.
So, talking about the team. The staff at the Voimatie office is one cashier at the cafeteria, two cooks and our chef. Here, we have two full-time employees. They are myself and the waiter, Ruth. For events, we have dedicated people who are going to come to help us upon request.
Without a good team, I have nothing. We do everything together.
Sanna Könönen
Sales Manager at Utran Uittotupa
Is it really important to have a good team?
Yes, it is. Without a good team, I have nothing. We do everything together. Upon coming here, I started to think about a good team. We had a great team at Teatteri Ravintola. There, I have understood how important it is to have the right people in the right places.
It was a jackpot for me to have Ruth working with me here. And we have Liisa, she is seventy and she is a treasure. Liisa knows every customer in town, and every customer knows her. She has been so long in this business. For many years, Liisa has been a waiter at Karelian hall (it is Kerubi now), so she knows a lot of people. Liisa is a very nice person and she is very good at her work.
The waiter Liisa, the chef Pasi Venäläinen, the trainee Tiia and the waiter Ruth. (Photo is provided by Sanna.)
The waiter Liisa, the chef Pasi Venäläinen, the trainee Tiia and the waiter Ruth. (Photo is provided by Sanna.)

About the food and the menu

Let's talk about food. Who is in charge of the Utran Uittotupa menu?
Our chef is Pasi Venäläinen. He is the one who takes care of our menu and our food.
Pasi is keen on preparing food that tastes as it should, has very pure and simple flavours.
Sanna Könönen
Sales Manager at Utran Uittotupa
What is the concept of the food here?
We use as many products as possible from local producers. Pasi is interested a lot in using the right herbs. We do not work with chemical products and prepared ingredients. For example, we do gravy here. Pasi is keen on preparing food that tastes as it should, has very pure and simple flavours. We do not do fine dining, we do clear tastes.
Do you personally try food?
No, because I trust Pasi (laughing).
Please tell us a little bit about the menus. Do you have prepared ones for events and is it possible to change them?
Pasi always plans wedding menus in advance. But it is very important for us that our menus are flexible. If a customer wants something different, for example, more fish or more vegetables or more meat, we can adapt the menu according to their requests. We always listen to the customers—what they want.
It is very important to us that the food at every event represents its atmosphere.
Sanna Könönen
Sales Manager at Utran Uittotupa
Recently, we have been collecting reviews from our customers. It is very nice to read them. Our clients write in their reviews that it is very important for them to have us open to discussing their event. For example, if there is something that they do not want on the menu, we say "It is ok, we will do as you want". So, the customer always comes first.
What was the most unusual food here? Something very special.
Once we have had menus that included bear meat. It is quite extraordinary here, in Joensuu. The bear was hunted by our owner's grandson. This is what comes to my mind.

About private events

Let's talk a little bit about private events. What are the most common events that people celebrate here?
I think that the most common are company meetings when they bring their guests here to have dinner and enjoy the sauna. If we talk about people, then the most popular are weddings, birthdays, Christenings and funerals.
Our wedding arranged in Ahjo hall of Utran Uittotupa. (Photo from my personal archive. Flowers by Adele Floral Design. Photo by Anna Ptitcina.)
Our wedding arranged in Ahjo hall of Utran Uittotupa. (Photo from my personal archive. Flowers by Adele Floral Design. Photo by Anna Ptitcina.)
How long in advance do you need to reserve the place? For example, when should a bride contact you if she wants to have a wedding at Utran Uittotupa?
Actually, there are two kinds of brides. For example, I had a visit yesterday by a bride who will get married next year. But I have also made one offer for this year wedding. So, it depends. Most weddings are booked one year in advance.
Talking about other private events, some companies make quite short notices about their meetings, for example, a week. It happens sometimes if they have surprise guests.
What was the biggest private party that you have had here?
The biggest party was for 140 people. It was a very nice à la carte dinner in the Sorvaamo hall. But this event was very challenging for our kitchen since we have so little space there. We had arranged a kitchen at Varppaaja, put big tables with food and plates, so all our waiters could work at the same time and provide excellent service for all the guests.
Also, we have made a great event for 300 people outside at the summer theatre. It was a summer cocktail party of one company. We were dreaming of nice weather. You know that here in Finland, the weather is always a big question (laughing). But luckily, everything was perfect.

About the summer theatre, Uittoklubi and the future

You mentioned the summer theatre. Actually, what is it? Is it also organised by Utran Uittotupa?
The summer theatre is called Utran Uusi Teatteri and it is organised by Utran Uittotupa. Utran Uusi Teatteri was built in 2014. We also rent the arena for different occasions: concerts, other summer theatre plays (for example, Maarianvaaran kesäteatteri), stand up-shows etc. This summer, we are going to have the play "Toivo Ryynäsen Elämä ja Teot" produced by FunPandemia.
Performance on the scene of Utran Uusi Teatteri. (Photo is provided by Sanna.)
Performance on the scene of Utran Uusi Teatteri. (Photo is provided by Sanna.)
Are you in charge of all organisation matters?
No (smiling). I have a very good team. Pia Ervasti has been working with that because she has been here since 2014 when the arena was built. Usually, Pia is the producer in our summer theatre plays. She takes care of actors, all the communication and contracts. So, Pia is very important to me.
What other events and performances are organised at Utran Uittotupa?
We have Uitto Klubi where musicians and other artists hold their shows. Usually, they are solo or duo performances. For example, Sami and Maarit Hurmerinta will play here on the 29th of March. The stand-up artist Ali Jahangiri is coming at the end of March. And Mikko Harju will sing for our guests on the 12th of April. We are also trying a new concept, Show & Dinner, on the 13th of April. The guests can enjoy the food from our chef's menu before the concert, which is reserved in advance. The singer of the concert is Kai Hyttinen.
Also, we make different concerts during the summertime at Uitto Areena. For example, Joensuu Opera Association gives concerts in August. The artists are professionals and they are really great. It is nice that they have special themes for their performances. Previously, it was Italian and Hungarian and it is going to be a Russian theme this year.
Do you invite people to sing or to play here? Or do they come to you?
I also have a good friend, Tommi Piipponen, who previously organised concerts at Teatteri Ravintola and Kerubi. We discuss with him who can be the next artist here, and then Tommi talks with them because he has contacts in the field. But nowadays, artists also write to me and offer their performances.
It is great to have such a place with a special atmosphere in Joensuu. As I understand, the network is also very important for your work, isn't it?
Yes, it is (smiling). If I did not have all these people around me, it would have been very hard to work alone.
And the last question. What is your personal dream about this place? What do you want it to be?
I would like to... There are still so many people, who do not know about Utran Uittotupa, even in the Joensuu area. I wish that we become more recognisable. I hope we can offer experiences for all senses to people from this area and also for the Finns and foreigners who come to visit North Karelia.
I also want to make more events for everyone: kids, families, and younger people. Maybe I would not want any rock festival here but concerts with different types of music.
I hope that we will sustain our development in such a way that every year we are going to come up with something new. I also really want our customers to notice our continuous growth and pursuit of improvement.
Sanna Könönen
Sales Manager at Utran Uittotupa
Sanna. (Photo from her personal archive.)
Sanna. (Photo from her personal archive.)

In conclusion...

When I asked Sanna about an interview, I expected to have a nice talk about her work at Utran Uittotupa. But I have got much more.
While Sanna was telling me about the place, about people who work there, I literally felt the presence of the whole team around our table. It was like every person was telling me his or her story.
I admire such professionals who strongly believe in and support team play. And you know, I am sure that the reason of the amazing welcoming atmosphere in Utran Uittotupa is the team spirit, the connection between people, who truly love their job, their customers and have the same vision about the future.
You can find Utran Uittotupa and information about their events