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Restaurant Day Has Become a Big Deal, Just Not in the U.S.

The pop-up food event that started in Helsinki four years ago has already spread to 68 countries around the world.
Homemade pelmeni (Russian dumplings) served in a slow-braised veal stock on a Helsinki street.
Homemade pelmeni (Russian dumplings) served in a slow-braised veal stock on a Helsinki street.Marinella Ruusunen/Restaurant Day

Timo Santala had a dream: to launch a mobile bicycle bar for selling drinks and snacks to picnickers. But red tape in his home city of Helsinki thwarted the idea. Frustrated with the bureaucratic restrictions he kept bumping up against, the event producer and a few friends decided to organize a pop-up food carnival for amateur restaurateurs that would only be open for a single day.

That initial action in May 2011, dubbed Restaurant Day, has since become an international phenomenon, with 16,000 temporary restaurants in 68 different countries serving an estimated 1.8 million customers at quarterly events over the past four years. The original Restaurant Day, which will next be held February 15, has been officially embraced by the Helsinki city government and sparked moves toward more open, creative uses of public space.