Luka Balac – Host of Happiness
Restaurateur – Entrepreneur – CookLuka is running Nolla restaurant with his three friends in Helsinki Punavuori area. Nolla is pioneer in zero waste cooking in Finland. Luka was born in Ohrid in Yugoslavia, current North Macedonia, and grew up in Belgrad since he was 19. Luka moved to Finland in 2008 and he’s living in Helsinki with his family.
Passion for happiness
Luka enjoys making other people happy, helping them to feel good. He has been cooking as long he remembers. What else to expect from a person who grew up having a loving grandmother always ready to support and teach him.
- I learned everything about food and traditions from my grandmother. Sunday family lunches were the most memorable ones with all tastes, joy and care. All this made me want to host others with good food and loving atmosphere. Eat, drink and joy. Those three things I believe in.
- I grew up in Belgrad where all people of all ages were welcome to spend time in restaurants. I enjoyed spending time eating, meeting new people and listening stories from many different kinds of personalities. Restaurant has always been my first home.
Artwork by Arni Aromaa
Luka came to Finland in 2008 to meet his bohemian uncle who were working as an interior architecture but also had been running a restaurant Arran in Levi in late 90’s. One night after two bottles of whisky, they got the big idea. Luka should stay in Finland. At five in the morning he rung to his mother and the rest is history.
- In the beginning the other love of my life took over. I had been studying film making in Belgrad. In Helsinki I got to study cinematography for three years and worked as a camera man in several film projects.
Cooking took over
Travelling to New York in 2012 with his girlfriend, current wife, was a turning point for Luka. He was filming girlfriend's art works and eating a lot during his free time. He got 13 extra kilos in three months.
- Staying half a year in the melting pot of all those tastes, flavors and different cultures made me to realize what I’d like to do the rest of my life. I decided to be a cook. Finally.
Luka started as a hard-working kitchen assistant in Olo restaurant in 2013. That was a great beginning for a passionate food lover. After that Luka worked as a cook in Emo, A21 and Kuurna among others.
Nolla was born
The three musketeers, Luka, Albert and Carlos met each other working at the same time in Olo in 2014. Albert was from Barcelona and Carlos from a small village in Portugal. All three cooks brought their own Mediterranean background and influence to Helsinki.
In 2017 the gentlemen decided to join their forces and to found a restaurant together. They all wanted to create something of their own, something new and sustainable.
- From the beginning it was clear that all three of us can’t work as cooks in the same kitchen. Each should have his own role in the company. I am the host and link between kitchen and service, Albert is responsible for the kitchen and Carlos is our business man and nowadays also responsible for the brewery.
Zero waste cooking
Nolla opened its doors as a eight-month pop-up restaurant in Kruununhaka in Helsinki in February 2018. All three entrepreneurs wanted to change the industry and make something new.
- We shared same values, sense of communality and passion for sustainable way of life. Idea of recycling and respect for other people’s work made us to build a zero-waste restaurant where all ingredients from local producers are used, nothing is wasted. Nolla has its own bio compost inside the restaurant.
Nolla at Freda
After six-month break Nolla was reborn in Fredrikinkatu, just the opposite of FRENN flagship store, in Punavuori area in Helsinki in July 2019. The corner space is a legend in Helsinki restaurant scene. Restaurant Kynsilaukka was there for decades. Everybody knew it. The latest one was a brewery.
- Carlos got excited about the beer and the brewery equipment. Nolla’s speciality is low-alcohol fruity beers. They work perfectly with our food.
Art meets food
The space is beautiful. It was renovated respecting the soul of the building and old surfaces. The original tile floor is still there giving the breeze from the old days. Dark brown furniture reminds us about Mediterranean lifestyle moods.
- Art is important for me. We wanted to create unique and sophisticated atmosphere with art works made by local artist and designers like Arni Aromaa, Jutta Lavi, Outi Martikainen, Aurea Tanttu and Kustaa Saksi. Most of our art is curated with Katja Hagelstam from Lokal.
Artwork by Outi Martikainen
Relaxed and classic
Luka values handicraft and high quality in everyday dressing. His likes relaxed and classic style, a mixture of British and Italian one. Shoes are Luka’s thing, he likes to play and show his personality with them. Luka is ready to pay for good quality materials when he sees them.
- I like to use colors. That’s not so typical in Finland. I have noticed that I tend to use certain colors during certain season or time of the year. I never wear black. That’s not for me at all. I like softer tones.
Eye for materials
- I buy a lot second-hand and some special pieces when travelling. Workwear style is close to my heart. I like to combine overshirts, t-shirts, denim, corduroy and Chelsea boots. I like different robust materials and strong contrasts in surfaces. Flannel in winter and linen in summertime.
Nolla and FRENN are neighbours at Fredrikinkatu sharing same street, same values and in many cases also same customers. It’s easy to visit and enjoy each other’s services and passion for work.
- FRENN clothes are produced responsibly based on my own values. It’s quite rear to find a brand that combines comfort, high quality and style like Antti and Jarkko do. I can use their clothes every day both at work and also when going out with friends, when it’s possible again.
Long-lasting and transparent
- For me it’s very important to know where and how my clothes are made. This is the same idea that is behind our own work at Nolla. I need to trust that I can use my clothes for long time. I usually check the manufacturer information from the washing label.
- My corduroy trousers from FRENN have been a perfect quality test for me. I have used them almost every day over a year now and still looking great. Ten points.
Nolla to go
The past year has been challenging for all of us. As a positive thing it has been also a year for new ideas and services. Restaurants have offered take-away dinners to keep their customers happy also during lockdowns.
- We wanted to continue Nolla’s take-away dinners also this spring on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s very important to take care of our loyal customers, to take care of each other.
- Our take-away menu is built so that you can eat it right away or you can warm later if you want. Luckily we may also sell out our own beers, with and without the dinner.
Check out this week's Nolla to go menu and order yours!
Nolla restaurant at Fredrikinkatu 22 will open as soon it's possible again. Stay tuned for more!