The story of the We Are Group started in the early 2000s when rap artist Anders "Andu" Westerholm and restaurant professional Matti Sarkkinen founded their first company. Their first ventures were event productions for night clubs. This drive then manifested as the urban lifestyle publication We Are Magazine. The duo started their own restaurant business in 2006 with the small cocktail bar Vinyl Cocktail Lounge.
In 2008, Andu and Matti acquired their own favourite restaurant and decided to make it even better. The Japanese restaurant Raku Ya laid the bricks for the essence of the We Are Group: attention to detail and customer service, a combination that has ensured the group's position in the hearts of Helsinkians.
With their extensive knowledge of Japanese cuisine, the two men dared to dream even bigger. Their wish was no more and no less than to bring a new angle to sushi. Sushibar was opened on Helsinki's Uudenmaankatu in 2009. The hit concept leaned steadily on Finnish design elements and on understanding the needs of patrons on the local level.
Coinciding with the founding of Sushibar, We Are Group started to collaborate more closely with the export house of quality wine, Viinitie, leading to a stake in the company. Viinitie wanted to do their part in developing wine culture in Finland to make it more relaxed, one fine bottle at a time. This was a mindset that fit perfectly with the duo who enjoys great wine and food just as much as strategies and concepts. The excitement resulted in a concept for pairing wine and sushi. Sushibar + Wine became a venture that has since sprouted four popular restaurants around Helsinki.
Another appetising opportunity presented itself when the summertime restaurant Johans opened its doors in the courtyard of a friend of Andu's family in the old part of Porvoo. This gave a strong boost to the city of Porvoo as a foodie destination. Johans was the first and for now the only We Are Group restaurant outside central Helsinki.
The next melting pot of expertise, distinctive service and a natural sense of enthusiasm was the wine bar Vin-Vin founded in 2012. A few years later, the beer house Bier-Bier followed this same logic. The agile and careful drink selection of these venues, a service-driven attitude and an up-to-date ambiance have not gone unnoticed by international visitors and press.
When Helsinki's Old Market Hall underwent renovation, Matti and Andu were granted the opportunity to re-create the spirit of the historical location with a place that could bring people together in different contexts but with the common idea of being surrounded by fresh produce. A fruitful and easygoing collaboration with top chefs Teemu Aura and Markus Hurskainen was born. Since 2014, Story has claimed its place in a prime downtown location. To continue the story, a second evolution is already in the making in the form of a central neighbourhood restaurant.
The collaboration with Teemu and Markus took a natural turn with Ox, a restaurant opened in spring 2016. The venue immediately became a go-to spot for many foodies and received much praise for its food as well as its interior. Ox delighted diners for about a year and a half before the owners decided to focus fully on their other projects.
The year 2016 ended on a fine note for Matti and Anders. A long time on the drawing board, the collection of restaurants and services called Kortteli was finally opened above the busiest shopping centre in Finland. Comprised of 10 restaurants, Kortteli forms a hub unforeseen in the business centres of any other Western city.
In addition to the concept and curation of Kortteli, two new We Are Group restaurants were also opened. The sister restaurant of the Old Market Hall's Story was named Story Kortteli. The team's second new restaurant in the complex is the authentic Spanish tapas bar Bar Cón – an idea that had been brewing for some 10 years already. At the end of the year, the newest Sushibar venture – Sushibar + Wine City – opened in the central shopping complex Citycenter.
Polishing and developing the quality of successful restaurants is never-ending work, and this side of the business has been the duo's focus in 2018. Anders and Matti have also been planning several new restaurant openings, the first of which will see the light of day towards the end of 2018 when the rugged district of Kallio will get its very own Bar Cón in a prime location.
To ensure healthy and active growth, We Are Group is also participating in the shaping of a whole new neighbourhood. The new urban three-block complex called Tripla in central Pasila will receive a new Story restaurant. The story of the We Are Group continues to grow strong.