Mandolyn Jonasson

Mandolyn Jonasson

SodaWorks for Town of Qualicum Beach

Organic eatery fills vacancy as former fire station transitions into business hub

The old fire hall in downtown Qualicum Beach is no longer on call to put out your fire. But it’s a heck of a spot to quench your thirst.

Island SodaWorks, which previously operated a production facility and part-time taco restaurant in Errington, has opened a bistro in a former fire engine bay in the old hall at the triangular corner of Primrose, First Avenue and Harlech Road, which closed when the town opened its state-of-the-art fire station last year on Rupert Road East.

“The town approached us and asked us to come in,” said Mandolyn Jonasson, founder of Island SodaWorks, who runs the new bistro with her partner of one year, Erik Dahlgren. “It fit their mission of bringing in and supporting young families, entrepreneurs and sustainable agriculture.”

And the bistro, which opened on Sept. 13, fits all three categories.

Jonasson, 36, and Dahlgren, 41, have a blended family unit on their Qualicum Bay farm that includes her six-year-old daughter and his 15-year-old son. A good portion of the food served at Island SodaWorks Bistro — including all the meat — is produced on the farm. Much of the rest is simply gathered wild for a menu based on local, organic and pro-biotic ingredients that include wild greens.

“It’s what we call ‘vintage veggies,’” Jonasson said of recipes that include dandelions, sorrel and more. “People are excited that we have organic and wild food. And people love the location. We’ve had people who remember coming here and climbing on the fire trucks when they were little.”

Erik Dahlgren, left, and partner Mandolyn Jonasson prepare food in the kitchen of Island Sodaworks Bistro, which they opened this month in the former fire station in downtown Qualicum Beach. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/NEWS Staff

They share the former fire station with its current anchor tenant, Cloudhead Games, the local virtual reality designer that jumped at the chance to move into Qualicum Beach when the town made the facility available as a business location, said Luke Sales, town planning director.

“Since a couple of years ago, when this whole process began, the town has probably gotten somewhere it didn’t expect to be,” said Sales. “Cloudhead Games was looking for a space and offered to come back when they realized (the hall) was a good space. Island SodaWorks is another good, local business that was looking for a place.

“Suddenly, we have a building downtown serving as a catalyst for change. They’re prospering and bringing families and employment to the town.”

The bistro model is a far cry from Jonasson’s last stab at a business, which was intended simply to give her something to do while spending time with her then-infant daughter.

She began creating her unique soda varieties, including staples like salal and ginger, and schisandra berry with wintergreen, shortly after her daughter was born and after she moved here from Montreal, where she had been attending art school.

Using the kitchen of the Lions Hall in Black Creek — “Because it had the lowest rent,” she said — Jonasson made soda that she sold first at the Comox Valley Farmer’s Market and eventually at markets from Campbell River to Ladysmith.

It proved so popular that she rented a space in Errington in 2012 and set up a production facility to distribute the soda through multiple retail outlets across B.C. — and beyond. Eventually, she said, Island SodaWorks began getting awards and features in food magazines, which led to her appearance on The Dragon’s Den.

“I thought that was what I wanted,” she said of the wholesale distribution. “But suddenly I had all these orders I couldn’t fill. And then the landlord wanted the property back and the situation turned sour. It was terrifying; it was horrible. I hated it.

“And to think, I set it up to spend more time with my daughter. I didn’t expect it to be so popular.”

Mandolyn Jonasson, centre, passes a plate of food to manager Chantel Brandl as Erik Dahlgren looks on in the kitchen of Island Sodaworks Bistro in downtown Qualicum Beach. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/NEWS Staff

And so, last December when her lease ran out, Johansson walked away to devote time to her farm, where the couple raises pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys and sheep, along with garden produce.

Before closing the Island SodaWorks production facility in Errington, Jonasson supplemented her income there by opening a small storefront and serving her handmade, organic tacos. The taco bar had only three tables and was open only twice a week for most of her final year in Errington, but it made her realize she got more enjoyment from the food preparation and interaction with customers than she had from mass production of soda.

Having Dahlgren, a carpenter who did much of the building inside the new bistro, on board proved the critical piece to going back into business, she said.

“I don’t think I’d have been able to do it by myself again,” said Jonasson. “I was laying awake at night, terrified.”

Now, she’s making plans for an Island SodaWorks Bistro that is still in an experimental, early phase. The couple will host a community kitchen program on a weekly basis and, ultimately, Jonasson said, she envisions welcoming other food creators into the space to make and sell their own specialties, on a daily basis.

“You could rent it out for the night, and we could have different people renting it on different days,” she said. “That way, instead of one restaurant, you could have eight or nine restaurants in one place.”

The bistro is already promoting live, local music with appearances by Peter Mason each Saturday.

Jonasson insists she’s not in business for profits, but to prove small, local businesses can succeed by creating a collaborative and sharing community. If she and Dahlgren can’t raise or harvest their food on their own farm, they try to get it from another local producer.

“In North America we look at food as fuel,” she said. “I lived in France for eight years and learned that it’s not just fuel. Food is a celebration. It’s love, and it’s connection to family and community.”

Island SodaWorks Bistro is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays at 124 Harlech Rd. in Qualicum Beach. For info, call 250-203-1072 or visit SodaWorks.

Just Posted

The Lighthouse Country Marine Rescue Society will get more funding from the Regional District of Nanaimo. (Submitted Photo)
More PQB communities to fund Lighthouse Country Marine Rescue Society

RDN to introduce amendment to service bylaw contribution

A slide on best practices when reporting a suspected impaired driver that was presented to Parksville city council on June 7 by Margarita Bernard, a volunteer with MADD. The organization’s Report Impaired Drivers campaign involves the installation of informative signs within the City of Parksville. (Mandy Moraes photo)
MADD brings campaign to report impaired drivers to Parksville

Aim is to raise awareness that 911 should be called

Pam Bottomley (executive director), right and Sandy Hurley (president) of the Parksville Downtown Business Association visit the PQB News/VI Free Daily studio. (Peter McCully photo)
PQBeat: Downtown Parksville gears up for post-pandemic bounce back

Podcast: Hurley, Bottomley chat about what’s ahead for the PDBA

(Black Press file photo)
RCMP: Air ambulance called to Whiskey Creek after crash involving 2 motorbikes

Both riders taken to hospital with serious injuries

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Marine biologist Rick Harbo pulls a lid from the Ladysmith harbour, which he uses to monitor the presence of native and non-native species in the Ladysmith harbour. (Cole Schisler photo)
Unidentified sponge may be the latest marine species invading Island harbour

Marine biologist finding dozens of alien species in warm-water Ladysmith Harbour, none threatening

Island Health is bringing a vaccination clinic to Lake Cowichan starting June 23. (Submitted)
Island Health opening COVID-19 vaccine clinic to boost lagging Cowichan Lake numbers

Cowichan Valley West the only Island area under 60 per cent in adult first dose totals

For more than a year, Rene Doyharcabal and a small group of neighbours in Langley’s Brookswood neighbourhood have been going out every evening to show support for first responders by honking horns and banging pots and drums. Now, a neighbour has filed a noise complaint. (Langley Advance Times file)
Noise complaint filed against nightly show of support for health care workers in B.C. city

Langley Township contacted group to advise of complaint, but no immediate action is expected

A nurse prepares a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Yukon Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Thomas
Vancouver couple pleads guilty to breaking Yukon COVID rules, travelling for vaccine

Chief Judge Michael Cozens agreed with a joint sentencing submission,

An inmate in solitary confinement given lunch on Tuesday, May 10, 2016. THE CANADIAN/Lars Hagberg
22-hour cap on solitary confinement for youth in custody still too long: B.C. lawyer

Jennifer Metcalfe was horrified to hear a youth had spent a total of 78 straight days in isolation

Flowers and candles were laid on the driveway of the Weber home, where Kerri Weber was found dead in November 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria man to stand trial for death of his wife last November

Ken Weber is charged with second-degree murder of his wife, Kerri Weber

The discovery of a missing woman’s body in Nanaimo earlier this month is now being treated as homicide, say Nanaimo RCMP. (File photo)
Discovery of woman’s body in downtown Nanaimo now being investigated as a homicide

Amy Watts was found dead near Albert Street and Victoria Crescent on June 3

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Most Read