The career of Ragni Rissanen, founder of Rivoli, began: she opened her first café in 1956 in Malmi in Helsinki. It was the same year that Urho Kekkonen began his tenure as President of Finland.
Ragni already had three cafés. In addition to these she established the Rivoli Restaurant in Helsinki’s Kamppi shopping centre in 1962. The concept was a seafood restaurant whose one half functioned on the self-service concept while the other half provided table service.
She borrowed the Rivoli name from rue de Rivoli in the centre of Paris, a street named in honour of Napoleon’s victorious battle. Its French character was a vigorous element in the concept of the restaurant from the very beginning.
As a pioneer in the field in 1963, Ragni began importing oysters, lobsters and squid, thereby opening a brand new international window in Finnish cuisine.
Ragni was also a pioneer in opening a complementary restaurant alongside Rivoli that served something quite unprecedented – in a word, pizza. A pizza oven and the recipes required were obtained from Stockholm. The venue was popular from the very start. Its pizzas are still regarded as amongst the best served in the city. Rivoli’s pizzeria is currently known by the name Rivoletto.
During the seventies, Ragni’s restaurant empire expanded into a significant culinary network in Helsinki: a Rivoli in Lehtisaari was founded, as well as Punainen Hattu (The Red Hat) and II Treno. In addition, she ran the Walhalla, Svenska Klubben and Bellevue.
Ragni sold the lion’s share of the restaurant empire she had amassed in order to build a hotel, and the Rivoli Jardin was born. The project was successfully launched in 1984, and expanded over the next few years to the towns of Kuopio, Oulu and Tampere.
The economic depression hit Finland with a vengeance, and Ragni’s businesses were all forced into bankruptcy as well, with the exception of Rivoli. She basically lost everything and was required to start anew with a fresh slate. Together with two other women, Ragni sold tasty baked potatoes on Hietaniemi Square, among other things.
With tenacious effort, Ragni succeeded in regaining management of both the Rivoli and the Bellevue. In 1996, Rivoletto was brought into being from Rivoli’s pizzeria, which had already managed to grow into a full-fledged Italian restaurant.
In 2012, Rivoli celebrated its 50th anniversary. During its long and challenging journey, the restaurant was the first to do the sorts of things that we regard as self-evident these days. It was Helsinki’s first seafood restaurant. The necessity to wear a necktie was eliminated immediately at the outset of the sixties. The pizzeria was the country’s first. Nouvelle cuisine came to Finland via Rivoli, as well as the sous vide cooking technique.
Rivoli’s modern delicacies are in many respects the results of Ragni Rissanen’s supremely dedicated and visionary work to refresh and invigorate Finnish restaurant life, and everyone has benefited from it – not only its friends but its competitors as well.