Next month, one of Port Alberni’s most iconic restaurants will be closing its doors for good after more than 50 years in the community.
The owners of Solda’s Family Restaurant announced earlier this year that their building on Beaver Creek Road has been sold. The restaurant’s final day of operation will be Dec. 4, after which it will be closing for good.
Anna (Mama) and Giovanni Solda moved from Italy to Canada in the 1950s, with the goal of giving their family a better life. They started out in Tahsis, where Giovanni worked at the mill, then moved to Port Alberni in 1965. When Betty’s Deep Fry came up for sale on Third Avenue (where Bread of Life is now) in 1969, the family bought it. Mama had always loved to cook and feed the millworkers, and had the dream of opening her own restaurant.
Her daughter Susi Solda was just 10 years old when she started working at the restaurant.
“It was my mom’s dream,” she said. “All my kids have gone through the restaurant for their first employment experience. For us, it’s like a legacy that’s ending, which is tough.”
The restaurant expanded next door on Third Avenue to become the Spaghetti House, then moved to the Alberni Mall on Johnston Road when the mall first opened.
“Opening at the mall was scary and exciting at the same time,” recalled Susi. “But we stuck together through thick and thin—that’s what our family instilled in us.”
After the mall closed, Solda’s moved twice before settling at their current location on Beaver Creek Road. It had been a Chinese restaurant and also Batstar Café, so Ivo Solda (who is owner now) renovated, expanded and added a patio.
Cindy Solda became a member of the family and the restaurant when she married Ivo’s younger brother, Gianni. Both Cindy and Gianni still work at the restaurant.
“My kids grew up in this restaurant,” Cindy recalled. “They got their first job experience rolling potatoes in tinfoil.”
Unfortunately, none of the next generation of Soldas is interested in running the business, and the older Soldas are ready to retire.
“It takes a day just to recover,” Cindy said. “Fourteen hours a day on your feet is a killer.”
Some things have changed in the past couple of years, mostly driven by the pandemic. The Sunday smorgasbord had to close due to COVID-19 restrictions, and the restaurant had to close Mondays and Tuesdays due to a lack of staff.
“It’s not that the business is not doing well,” explained Ivo. “Even through the pandemic, we did well. But it’s time. If Mama was here, she would tell me it’s time, too.”
The restaurant first went up for sale in 2019, when Solda’s celebrated its 50-year anniversary, but Ivo said it was “a hard sell” due to a number of factors—COVID-19 and labour shortages, to name just two. Now it has been sold, and the new owners—who also own the Spice Hut location that will be opening in the former Swale Rock Café on Argyle Street—will take over in January 2023. Their plans for the location are not known and no one answered the AV News’ call.
“After Sunday night (Dec. 4), that’s it,” said Ivo.
For all the Soldas, the decision to close is bittersweet. The restaurant was a meeting place, not just for the family but for the community of Port Alberni, as well.
“There are babies who visited this restaurant, then became adults and brought their own babies in,” said Cindy. “We’ve all grown old together.”
Although Susi now works at Schill Insurance, she still occasionally pops into the restaurant to help out.
“My brothers deserve to retire,” she laughed. “But at the same time, it’s very sad. I’ve never had a life without the restaurant.”
For Susi, the success of the restaurant over the past 50 years is simple.
“Mama always said, treat them like family,” she explained.
All of the Soldas now have the same message for Port Alberni—a heartfelt thank you for keeping the restaurant running all these years.
“I think at this point, after all these years, we have to thank Port Alberni,” said Susi. “Port Alberni has stuck by us through all the location moves. It’s been a part of people’s lives, a part of their upbringing too. We were so blessed. I really want to say thank you for allowing my mother’s dream to be fulfilled.”