Soulfood founders (left to right) Tamara Mercandelli, Christel Hagn and Caitlin Berkhiem at their new home in the Baker Hotel. Drew D Leiterman photo.

Soulfood settles into historic Mt. Baker Hotel

New location is a dream come true for local co-operative restaurant founders

Local cooperative restaurant Soulfood, one of the city’s finest eateries, has made a big move over the past few months, both geographically, and in terms of moving closer towards their original dream for the business.

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Patrons may be aware already that the restaurant closed down on Oct. 18 and has since moved into the historic Baker Hotel, becoming their anchor tenant and opening their doors to a simplified menu on Jan. 18. The Townsman sat down with Caitlin Berkhiem and Christel Hagn, two of Soulfood’s three founders, to talk about the new location.

“It was fun,” Berkhiem said of the move, “but it was really hard. I remember doing it and thinking ‘why would anybody ever decide or choose to move a business?’ It is so difficult.”

So why did they decide to move then?

“How could we pass up this opportunity?” Berkhiem promptly responded. The three individuals’ initial goal was to have a place that had an existing kitchen built in as they didn’t have the budget to put one in. So they moved into their original location under the impression that the kitchen functioned properly.

“So what ended up happening was the hood vents, the ventilation system, wasn’t up to code,” Hagn explained. “So we would have had to spend $40,000 to put in a hood vent, or be creative and work with what we had.”

This meant that they had to “learn to cook creatively,” because they made an agreement with the city stating they were not allowed to cook with grease-laden vapours. Essentially all their cooking therefore involved boiling water, cooking grains, heating up soups and other stovetop-related items.

“We did quite well with it, but it also restricted us and made everything a lot slower, and there was a lot of reasons why it didn’t work too well for us,” Hagn said. “But then when this space became available …”

“So what happened was,” Berkhiem continued, “I guess it was in the spring of last year, we were like, okay we are really outgrowing this place, we need a proper kitchen. It would be really nice to be downtown, central Baker Street in a heritage building, brick .. like we actually specified all of these things.”

Then Greg Eaton purchased the Baker Hotel and approached the Soulfood founders and said he wanted them to rent the kitchen. To the founders, this was truly their team coming to fruition, manifesting itself in the most perfect way they could have imagined.

”Everything feels so much easier,” said Hagn of the new space. “The flow is better, it feels more comfortable, just everything works better. In the kitchen everything’s easier.”

Especially considering the inefficiencies of their previous home, with its narrow, hard-to-navigate hallway and generally cramped quarters, this new warm, wide-open space, with two walk-in coolers and a wood-fired pizza stove is an oasis.

At present, the ladies are honing their focus on what they’ve dubbed “Little Soul” a grab-and-go style cafe, before they will launch the full restaurant menu, approximately in early June.

“So we started with a very simple menu,” Hagn explained, “focusing on just grab and go, baked goods, espresso, coffees, simple quick items, to first of all get used to the space and get used to our customers coming in from 11th to come to the grab and go cafe, that’s why our doors on Baker Street have been closed because once we open here in the late spring, we’ll have a full sit-down menu.”

While they have many great, yet-to-be revealed plans for the full-fledged restaurant, they have implemented some things in the meantime. For example, starting Thursday, Feb. 7 they are launching a pizza night. They also have a brunch every Sunday, that has already seen their new space packed to the gills.

Additionally, they will host a community breakfast on the first Tuesday of every month, which raises funds for their suspended coffee program.

“With that, the money in that fund, anyone off the streets, anywhere, no questions asked can come in and get a meal, a drink, whatever they need on the house basically, or on the community,” said Hagn.

Plus, they have also started a new loyalty program, in which the more money you spend at Soulfood, the more points you will receive, which you can then get free food with. As an added bonus, this program will actually send you a message informing you that you have a free coffee waiting for you.

All three founders are grateful to the community that has supported them since their inception three years ago, through their first few years, and now into the move. Make sure you get down to check out their new space and specials, and look out for more information regarding their full opening.

This is a first in a weekly series of features on developments in the downtown Cranbrook business community

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