The city of Hancock, like the rest of the Copper Country, takes pride in its Finnish heritage.
The city is becoming even more Finnish with the opening of Nisu Bakery & Cafe, which aims to provide a variety of goods and recipes from the owner’s homeland.
“I always had that dream that I wanted to open a coffee shop, with a gift shop (and) where the community can come together and just hang out,” says Irma Boyd, Nisu owner.
Both of Boyd’s parents were from Finnish Lapland and moved to Sweden for work, where Boyd was born. She said her mother was an amazing baker who went to trade school for cooking and baking. This background made it natural that Boyd would follow suit, working in a bakery when she left home and eventually running a restaurant in Sweden.
Boyd eventually moved back to Finland, where she met her husband who was in the country while serving in the U.S. military.
Her husband is from the lower peninsula. When they were deciding where to locate, the U.P. 's Keweenaw Peninsula became the ultimate destination, she says. She originally arrived in early 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning, and her husband joined her following his retirement from the military.
Although Boyd is still working through the final permits to get the food part of the business operational, she has opened the gift shop and sells a variety of Finnish and Swedish goods.
Ultimately, she plans to serve a menu of Finnish and Swedish soups, salads, sandwiches and baked goods. She plans to offer healthier fare featuring leaner proteins and seafood-rich options rather than fried foods with lots of sugar.
“Irma is from Finland and we have a very robust Finnish population here in our area, so this was kind of a no-brainer for her,” says Todd Gast, community development manager for the city of Hancock and its Downtown Development Authority. “Having a bakery like that in our area is a magnet, it brings people to our town … to experience what that is because it’s fairly unique. She’s got a gift store that has Finnish products in it, and she will eventually be having her homemade bakery – it’s just going to be a really wonderful business to have on our main street.”
Although the public hasn't had a chance to sample the menu yet, locals have been incredibly friendly and receptive to the venture, Boyd says.
“The community has been so welcoming, everybody is so excited,” she says.
The Nisu name refers to a sweet coffee bread from some parts of Finland, according to Boyd, but is often used to describe all Finnish baked goods by some of the descendants of Finnish immigrants in the U.P.
Gast praised Boyd’s marketing efforts and the design of the business.
“That’s another great added bonus for having something on your main street that looks really good, that is inviting. That’s one of the things all main streets would relish (having),” Gast says.
As part of the effort to get the cafe and bakery operational, Boyd received a $25,000 Match on Main grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation earlier this year – one of only four projects in the U.P. to receive funding.
“These are $25,000 grants and it’s a one-to-one match. It is for improvements on the property, anything they are needing to purchase for their business,” Gast explains.
“Michigan’s small businesses define our downtowns, and with today’s Match on Main grants, we are supporting small businesses in both peninsulas,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in the April announcement that Nisu and 27 other small businesses around the state received a combined total of $697,325.
"Together, we are going to make communities across Michigan more attractive places for families to live and work and for businesses to grow and invest. Let’s keep our foot on the accelerator as we grow our economy, support good-paying jobs, and build thriving towns across Michigan.”
Once fully open, Boyd hopes the cafe and bakery serve as more than just a place to get a bite to eat. She hopes Nisu will serve as a friendly, community-oriented space that can host book clubs, Bible studies, community meetings, or even as just somewhere to go to escape the winter blues and cabin fever.
Although the couple only moved to the Copper Country recently, Boyd shares that she has a much older connection to Hancock -- her grandfather left Finland to work in the area. “My father’s father, my grandpa, came three times from Finland and worked here in the mines,” Boyd says.
That connection also coincidentally extends to her husband’s family, it turns out. Boyd discovered that fact during a trip her father took to see the Quincy Mine, where his dad worked.
During the visit, her father showed a picture of his parents to some of her husband’s relatives. They realized Boyd’s grandmother was wearing a hat that Boyd’s husband’s grandmother had sold to Boyd’s grandfather, while she worked at a hat milling company in Hancock.
“The picture my father showed her was (of) my grandfather and my grandmother and she had a hat from that store,” Boyd says. “So my family and his family met already in, I think 1937, my grandfather bought a hat from my husband’s family’s place.”
The Nisu Bakery & Cafe is located at 208 Quincy St., Hancock. More information can be found at Nisubakery.com or by visiting Nisu Bakery on Facebook and Instagram."