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A cup of coffee is a good start for the morning, but sometimes it’s not just about the drink. I have the habit of café hopping and getting to know the baristas behind the coffee counters — the ones who put their soul into making a good cup of coffee and inspiring visitors with their stories.

Located on a quiet and calm street of Mariankatu, Papu Café welcomes its customers every day with a cozy atmosphere filled with freshly brewed coffee from local Finnish roasters. I recently had a chance to learn about the stories of Tra, co-owner at Papu, who has been through ups and downs with the shop during the last two years.

Tra making a latte art

Tra, co-owner at Papu, has been through ups and downs with the shop during the last two years. Photo: Nhut Trieu @_seafoodmix

Up until Papu, Tra had always dreamt of the day when she would open her own coffee shop, where she could share her passion for baking homemade treats and brewing coffee with the world. One day in 2020, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tra came across a small coffee shop on sale. Seeing it as the perfect opportunity to jump in and take over, Tra did not hesitate to step into the new chapter with her business partner. “If not then, it might have taken a long time for a chance like this to come up again. So I just went for it”, Tra said, thinking back to her first days with Papu.

If you don’t earn, you learn.

The pandemic has definitely caused a tough start for them, which adds to the hurdles of owning a business for the first time. But it also came with its perks. “If it hadn’t been for Covid, the previous owner might not have put the business on sale. Our main worry, in the beginning, was to survive through the pandemic. There were periods when we could only offer takeaway or had to close the shop for a while.” Then, the entrepreneurial spirit started to kick in. “We rolled up our sleeves and came up with a perfect plan for both the present and the future. The most important thing is that during those darkest times, we were still able to keep our passion burning and make the best out of what we have, all while still having fun.”

Papu cafe text at the shop's wall

Papu aims to be not only a place but also a mood. Photo: Nhut Trieu @_seafoodmix

Apart from coffee, Papu is also a bridge connecting artists and art lovers — which explains why it is also known as a gallery. The shop is always filled with paintings from local artists, available for purchase by anyone visiting. While the previous owner inspired the initial idea, Tra has been working actively with her team to integrate this artistic element deeper into the value that the store brings. “We wanted to grow Papu further as an Art café; the paintings are now at the core of our concept. We have always supported the artists and put efforts into promoting their arts, so we adjusted our business model to grow that aspect stronger and get more in return.”

Teamwork is also the key in Tra’s story. Throughout our conversation, she repeatedly mentions how important it is to meet the right teammates and get on well with them. “In conflicts, the key is not to convince others to follow your ideas. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. The key is to communicate with each other clear enough and develop a solution that fits all of our interests.”

Don’t wait until you are absolutely ready before jumping to a new challenge — because you might never be ready enough.

With Papu, Tra wanted to inspire others by genuinely doing what she loves. “I want to offer the most sincere and honest atmosphere, something that reflects myself the most. It’s like bringing out all I have to offer, and those who enjoy will enjoy. We have also considered building Papu according to what’s trendy on the market. But if we keep chasing one trend after another without putting our heart into it, how long will it last? So, we want to keep Papu to represent ourselves.’ This is also how I feel whenever dropping by the shop — like taking a step back, being present, and reflecting on myself.

The owner of Papu reaching for the shelf

Tra will soon start at Aalto University School of Business, but the beverage business will always be her cup of tea. Photo: Nhut Trieu @_seafoodmix

Speaking about her motivation, Tra shared her motto — “If you don’t earn, you learn.” Failure is a lesson for yourself to do better in the future. Together with her great passion, these have fuelled her courage to take the new challenge in the first place and continue growing Papu from facing one obstacle to another. In addition, the experience helped Tra to grow as a person. “You can learn the most when trying something new, or something you thought you don’t enjoy doing. Don’t wait until you are absolutely ready before jumping to a new challenge — because you might never be ready enough.”

In a few months, Tra will be joining Aalto University as a new Master’s student in the School of Business. This marks another new chapter in her journey, and she is keeping her mind open to exciting new opportunities. “The Food and Beverage industry is always my cup of tea, something I could always get back to. I could possibly continue with Papu, start another business, or do something completely different — I don’t know yet about the plan for the future, but I will be open when the chances arrive.”