photos: David Cardinal founded Solstice Cafe on the premise that he wanted to do business differently. Photo: courtesy of David Cardinal..

Solstice Cafe is a labour of love

David Cardinal is the founder and owner of Solstice Cafe, a pillar in Victoria's independent arts and social justice community. The cafe and arts space is located at 529 Pandora Avenue in Market Square, downtown Victoria.

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“I opened Solstice Café in September 2001. I had always liked cafés, but I wanted more than just a place to grab a coffee.

I wanted a place that was welcoming 
and open to art and community. And I wanted to focus on the environment, which is very important to me.

“I was the first café in town to have
only organic and fair-trade coffee. It’s 
more common now, but at the time it wasn’t. I try and use as many high quality, environmentally friendly products as I can. There are budget restrictions around that. You still have to pay your rent at the end of the month, but I try to do as much as I can.

“I opened the space for the art and poetry, and hoped that people would come find me, because I didn’t really know how to bring people in. But it really was that simple. There are a lot of people in Victoria looking for a place to perform, looking for a place open to unconventional art, theatre, music. So fortunately these people came and found us and filled our halls with their spirit.

“I started drinking coffee in university as sort of a necessity for staying awake.
 I moved to Victoria to go to university. Originally I’m from Kelowna and then Medicine Hat, Alberta. My dad’s Cree
 from northern Alberta. I came to study mechanical engineering. Even by the time I completed [the program] I knew that I didn’t actually want to be an engineer, 
but by the time I realized that I was close enough to the finish line that it didn’t make sense to stop climbing the mountain. Really, though, even then I thought that
I’d kind of just like to have a coffee shop.

“I decided, after many years, that
I wanted to roast my own [coffee at Solstice]. [The coffee’s name], Many Pink Feathers, is a nickname that my best friend gave me in high school for being part native and part communist, [which] stuck with me. I always liked it.”

“I’ve got a daughter. She’s just about to turn 10. Being a community-minded ethically run business means you’re
not bringing home a lot of money, so she doesn’t know a business owner’s supposed to be a wealthy person! But she comes in here and this is her home and everyone knows her when she walks in. That’s a neat experience for her.

“[Business] has been very difficult [lately]. It’s probably a combination of things, but there’s a big office building next to us that two years ago was mostly full and now is completely empty.

“I am worried about this space. We’ve managed to make things work and keep going, but we are looking for someone else maybe to take over the business. I would like to continue roasting the coffee, for example, and be involved in the space.

“I always enjoyed the café environment. But I [opened this place because I] 
really felt most places were too focused on business. And not focused enough on what a business can be.”

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312 Main St
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