SolShine’s operators, Nina Da Silva and Blaine McKnight, explained that they’re happy to be able to offer locals something different but are by no means trying to push the vegan lifestyle on anyone.
In a landscape littered with cattle ranches, Montague’s SolShine Cafe is offering something new and unexpected: organic, plant-based food with no meat in sight. SolShine’s operators, Nina Da Silva and Blaine McKnight, explained that they’re happy to be able to offer locals something different but are by no means trying to push the vegan lifestyle on anyone. In addition to the cafe, McKnight teaches yoga classes at Mountain Yoga House, which is in the space next door, attached to the cafe.
Da Silva and McKnight have been together for about two years and had planned to open a business in Tulsa, Oklahoma before the opportunity in Montague presented itself. The couple was living in Mount Shasta when McKnight heard one of his friends had some land in west Siskiyou County that wasn’t being lived on, so he and Da Silva were able to camp on the property during the spring. During that time they found out that a business space in Montague was available and the owner had long envisioned that the building could one day house a vegan cafe, McKnight said.
Da Silva noted that friends had been asking her to open a cafe for years after enjoying meals she’d cooked. Da Silva also has extensive culinary experience under her belt. In 2002 she graduated from what later became known as the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City and she worked at restaurants in both New York and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
And thanks to that experience, she had no starry-eyed visions of what running her own cafe would be like. When people suggested that she open her own place, Da Silva said her response was, “Are you crazy? ... I’m not willing to give up my life to run a cafe.” She elucidated, “It takes all of your mind, body and soul to run a restaurant, and I wasn’t totally excited about that idea.”
But after moving in with McKnight, she said, her perspective changed. He helped her see that opening a vegan cafe could be “more about serving people what they might not even know they need.”
Whereas the typical restaurant business model revolves around dollars spent and hours worked, Da Silva and McKnight said that SolShine is “human-centered rather than dollar-centered.”
“We know that opening a vegan cafe is not a big money-maker,” Da Silva said with a smile. SolShine’s mission, which is colorfully displayed behind the bar, is to “support people in bringing balance to the external world by caring for the internal well-being of the mind, body and spirit.”
While SolShine’s menu is exclusively vegan, Da Silva said her goal is to make food that will be enjoyed by people who eat a regular diet that’s full of meat and rich, fatty foods. The key, she explained, is knowing how to balance flavors to bring fullness to a meal. That way, when people eat a vegan meal they don’t think, “Oh, there’s meat missing from my plate.”
“When you eat a plate of food that has salty, sour, pungent and sweet flavors all in one meal, you don’t finish it feeling like something’s missing,” she added.
And whereas a meat-based meal may leave the diner feeling like they want a nap, Da Silva remarked, SolShine’s food is meant to make people feel full in a different way – satisfied but energized, and not weighed down.
Da Silva plans to make a vegan version of biscuits and gravy at some point soon. “I make a tempeh sausage that tastes better and feels better than regular breakfast sausage,” she said.
Fifty to 75 percent of SolShine’s menu items are raw as well; that means food that isn’t heated to a temperature over 118 degrees. Many of the foods are slightly cooked, Da Silva said, which may consist of dehydrating, blending or marinating, all of which are technically considered forms of cooking. Keeping foods at lower temperatures means that more nutrients are available to be absorbed by the body, she noted.
Affordability is also a focus at SolShine. Organic, vegan ingredients typically cost more but Da Silva wants to be sure that the cafe’s menu is accessible for everyone. For instance, she said, “Instead of brothy soups I make thick and hearty stews so people get a five dollar bowl of soup and they’re full and satisfied.”
McKnight and Da Silva want to give locals more than just a place to eat healthy food. SolShine is also a place where people can meet, gather and grow, they said. “It’s coming back to a way of living that’s like the old way but in a new way,” Da Silva expressed. In action, that philosophy looks like “everyone sitting around the counter talking about their day, the neighbor coming by just to say hey, my daughter playing with another child in the community,” she described.
SolShine Cafe is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The menu changes a bit each day, but typically has a salad, a sandwich, a hot soup, juices, smoothies, herbal coffee and tea, mylk elixirs, raw crackers and dip, and a dessert. SolShine is located at 145 S. 11th Street in Montague and can be reached at (541) 840-3958 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The cafe also has a Facebook page where each day’s menu can be seen.
Mountain Yoga House is located at 150 S. 11th Street in Montague and has yoga classes on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 to 11 a.m. and 6:30 to 8 p.m. and from 8 to 9:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Prices vary. For more information, contact McKnight at (530) 925-6223 or email email@example.com. The yoga house also has a Facebook page.