Solda’s Family Restaurant recently celebrated 50 years—an amazing feat for any restaurant and nearly unheard of for a family-owned business.
Anna (Mama) and Giovanni Solda came to Canada to give their family a better life, starting in Tahsis where Giovanni worked at the mill. But it was Mama, who loved to cook and feed the millworks, who had the dream to open their own restaurant. When Betty’s Deep Fry came up for sale on Third Avenue (where Bread of Life is now), the family bought it.
It was 1969 and Susi Solda was just 10 years old when the restaurant opened. She and her brothers Gianni (12) and Ivo (17) worked alongside their parents. Younger sisters Lori and Rosa would join in when they were older.
“My father told us, be nice to the customers, treat them like family,” says Susi. That’s been the mission of the restaurant since the start: treat everyone like family. “The atmosphere, the family dynamics, it makes a difference to the customers.”
The restaurant expanded next door to become the Spaghetti House and it was the first restaurant in town to offer fresh-made pizza and a Sunday smorgasbord.
When the Alberni Mall was ready to open, the mall owner asked the Soldas to move to the mall. It took some convincing, said Susi. “We were good, we were happy where we were.”
But Solda’s did open in the mall. “We were the first business in and the last ones to leave (when the mall closed),” said Susi.
At the mall, Lori Solda came in to her own as front of house.
“The restaurant at the mall would never have been the same without Lori,” said Susi of her sister. “People just loved her.” Because Lori died a few years ago, she never worked at the current location on Beaver Creek Road.
The family also owned a restaurant in Parksville, but the family was just getting spread too thin and it was closed.
After the mall closed, Solda’s moved twice before settling at their current location on Beaver Creek Road. It had been a Chinese restaurant, so Ivo (who is owner now) renovated, expanded and added a patio. He continues to make improvements every year. Gianni and his wife Cindy still work with Ivo at the restaurant. Giovanni’s wife Patty does the books. Susi works at Schill Insurance, but still shows up on Sundays to help with the smorgasbord crowd – a role she started when she was just 13.
“I have never been unemployed,” laughs Susi.
As it is a family business, the grandchildren and now the great-grandchildren have worked at the restaurant, learning the skills Giovanni and Anna taught their children.
“I think we flourished because our parents instilled in us a strong work ethic,” says Susi. “We are all very grateful and thankful for our parents and that they crossed that water to come to Canada.”
When the family celebrated 50 years earlier this month, many former staff and customers came back to the restaurant, but some very important people were not there. Giovanni and Anna did not live to see the half century mark of the business they started.
“The community has embraced our family and our restaurant,” says Susi. “We know all our customers and we treat them like family. We get a lot of hugs from our customers.”
Unfortunately, none of the next generation of Soldas is interested in running the business and so it is for sale to the right buyer.
“It has to be a special person who takes over this restaurant,” said Susi.