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Tiina about Latin America: “I love the culture there, the strength and respecting the roots that are also present in Estonia.”


“Regardless of how strong a woman is, handling heavy, hot pots and pans is difficult even for men,” says Tiina Kõresoo, a successful restaurateur. Although determination can help one succeed anywhere, the culinary world has traditionally been male-dominated. Tiina shared more about her journey with Naisteleht.

Tiina’s (49) ventures have been enjoyed by Estonians for nearly 12 years. These include Salt in Kadriorg, Stereo Street Food dedicated to Latin American street food, and numerous pop-up restaurants across Estonia. The culinary experiences Tiina offers are as diverse as her own path into the restaurant business.

Latin American Flavors

When asked how she’s doing at the beginning of the interview, while comfortably seated at a table in Salt, Tiina replies in the manner of a busy person: “Can’t complain, busy. I always manage to live my life in such a way that 24 hours in a day isn’t enough.”

Lately, Tiina’s energy has been focused around Viru Food Hall, where she started the Stereo Street Food restaurant two years ago. The latter is dedicated to popularizing Latin American flavors. “Introducing exotic cuisine takes time. People know chili con carne, tacos, and that everything is very spicy. But there’s so much more!” she proudly declares.

She discovered South American flavors during a honeymoon trip to Peru, Chile, and Argentina three and a half years ago, immediately falling in love with the unique local cuisine. “I love the culture there, the strength and respecting the roots that are also present in Estonia. I tried more and more to share the kitchen traditions of Latin America here at Salt, until the chefs finally said: ‘Tiina, stop, we are not a Latin American restaurant. We want to do other things too.'”

Coincidentally, at the same time, Viru Food Hall opened, offering the perfect opportunity to create a suitable form for her passion. “The idea of a food hall was very cool. I have visited many such places around the world and can say that Estonians have nothing to be ashamed of.” To ensure authenticity, Stereo Street Food orders all its daily foodstuffs from South America, and Tiina tries to return there a couple of times a year to further expand her palate. She laughs, saying her team always awaits her return with bated breath to see what crazy ideas she brings back.

Escaped a Helicopter Accident

Since traveling has always been close to Tiina’s heart, her first career steps weren’t much related to culinary arts. She graduated in tourism management. “I started working on a Tallink ship alongside the university. Working in the nightclub, you could see everything. Next to the club was a very nice à la carte restaurant, whose head chef was Anti Lepik, already very talented then. I used to poke my nose into that kitchen sometimes before being kicked out,” Tiina chuckles.

After that, she worked as a flight attendant for the Estonian-Finnish airline Copterline. According to Tiina, it was a good experience that taught her to communicate with people and gave her access to cheap Finnair tickets. Tiina was expecting her first baby just before the tragic Copterline helicopter crash. “So, I escaped that. But it made me think about what to do next,” Tiina recalls.

Six months after her child’s birth, Tiina heard that the first Zara store in Estonia was looking for a manager. Bored at home with a seven-month-old baby, she decided to apply. “For some strange reason, I was selected. They said it’s off to London, and I had three days to decide. So, I told my then-husband to take a vacation and we went to London,” Tiina recounts, gaining excellent training in a few months in England.

Tiina managed the Zara store for seven years. Alongside her duties, she became increasingly fascinated by her then-husband’s work, who had been in the catering business for a long time. “I knew from the start that if I did something in catering, it would be entirely on my own.” Tiina clearly remembers being criticized for her lack of experience. “They said it’s a man’s world. I quit my very good job at Zara and started looking for a place to open a restaurant,” Tiina describes.

Less Time for Children

Thus, she literally discovered a basement in Kadriorg, which had been empty for a couple of years. Although covered in mold, flooded, and muddy, it immediately captivated her. “It looked horrible, but I felt it was my place,” Tiina describes Salt’s premises. The restaurant officially opened its doors on August 17, 2012. “Initially, we had 25 seats. A month later, we were chosen as the best new restaurant of the year. Then the guests started pouring in. That’s when I realized how little I actually knew about this world,” she recalls with a smile. Soon after, she was expecting her second child and had to attend all events while pregnant. “I remember struggling to fit into the restaurant with my large baby bump just before going to the hospital.”

Tiina refers to her two children as restaurant kids. They have grown up amidst all the hustle and bustle and actively helped with their mother’s ventures during summers. Although she admits that she has had too little time for her children at times, she also believes that freedom is important for the offspring. “Children don’t need to be overly protected; they need to see and experience the world themselves.”

By now, Tiina’s restaurants have won several awards and have been noted in prestigious restaurant guides.

Returning to the attitude that the restaurant world is a man’s domain, Tiina recalls how, for several years, people first wanted to know who was funding her supposed hobby. “I am stubborn and didn’t take that attitude to heart.” The fact is that after launching Salt, Tiina and her partner went their separate ways.

Sometimes It’s Hard

The hardworking woman acknowledges that while determination can help you succeed anywhere, the culinary world is inherently more male-dominated. “Regardless of how strong a woman is, handling heavy, hot pots and pans is difficult even for men. I am a strong woman, but some jobs are more suited for men. Power struggles have occurred in my team as well. On the other hand, as a woman, it can be much easier. Sometimes a smile can be much more convincing than a whip,” Tiina laughs.

To understand customers’ expectations and sentiments, she tries to work as a waitress in her restaurant once a week. This has led to incidents she looks back on with amusement. “Since most of my colleagues are men, I’ve been told at the table to call the male manager over,” she grins. She also recalls a story with some Finns she served all evening at a long table and who were very satisfied with the food. “Our principle is that all sparkling wines and wines are poured into large glasses. They ordered sparkling wine and I poured it out. I actually speak perfect Finnish, but I didn’t tell them that. Then it was funny to listen to them discuss that everything was great, but the waitress girl didn’t understand anything. They thought I was in my first week on the job,” Tiina laughs.

Plenty of Setbacks

To women who wish to succeed in the restaurant business, Tiina advises first thoroughly considering how genuine this calling is – there are many other beautiful and wonderful fields to test oneself. But if certain that the heart is there, one must not give up. And a support system always helps. Tiina’s moral support and soulmate is her current husband, with whom she stands at the forefront of Stereo.

One must also be prepared for setbacks in this colorful world. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Tiina felt that the Estonian restaurant scene was stronger than ever, with even ordinary families beginning to seek culinary experiences. “COVID, however, killed a large number of good operators. Hats off to those who are still surviving,” she praises her competitors.

Tiina reminds newcomers that to function successfully, one must be ready to suppress their ego. “Before the pandemic, I felt for a moment that I was starting to have more time for family and myself. The next moment, I was suddenly sitting in a car with dripping food containers, personally delivering orders to people’s homes. The entire team was driving around the city. I felt like a taxi driver, but thanks to that, I survived.”

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