In the late 90s, John Cerny and his brother were out looking for a cafe location, when he came across a 150-year-old Seagram’s building in Waterloo, which was vacant at the time.
“It was a vacant building slated for demolition, with no road in front of it,” Cerny said. “Through one of our guests, we found out about it, and he basically told us it may not be right for [the] cafe, but you should take a look anyway. So we did, and [we] fell in love.”
They were struck by the natural sunlight coming into the field outside, and the open interior of the building. Immediately, Cerny imagined it taking on a Mediterranean vibe.
“We also looked at what concepts were in Waterloo at the time, and tried to find something unique.”
By 1999, Solé Restaurant and Wine Bar was born, with a Mediterranean theme permeating throughout the menu and the interior.
The menu features items ranging from thin crust pizza, pastas, and vegetarian or meat-based entrees, as well as an extensive wine, scotch, and beer list.
But he insists it’s a complete dining experience, one that goes beyond just the food.
They wanted to create an experience that transported guests away from Waterloo and into the warmth of faraway places.
“When you think of the Mediterranean, you think of sitting and enjoying olives and wine and bread and being outside. That was blended into the concept and the menu and just the feel of the restaurant … And put those all together into a restaurant that has a lot of character and almost a soul to it,” he said.
For Cerny, building relationships with staff and customers is essential to that experience.
“It's not just about having somebody come in and enjoy an experience, but it's also about those relationships,” he said. Cerny and his staff remember their guests, remember their preferences, which he believes sets the dining experience apart, making it “the whole package.”
“We had guests calling to see how we're doing during the pandemic, to make sure our staff were okay, to purchase gift certificates to support us through the financial aspect of getting through those tough times. That's, I think, a huge part of our success as well.”
Although they made it through with continued support from their customers, Cerny said they were “of course” worried throughout the pandemic.
“This is an independent family venture. I consider our team here an extension of my family, and our guests as well. And to not be worried … I don’t think anybody could honestly say they weren’t. This is our livelihood,” he said.
But, he said uncertainty is in the nature of the business.
“Hospitality is always a challenging industry. Is there still certainty down the road? I don't think there ever will be, I don't think there ever has been. So, you continually evolve and react and adjust. It's always been that if you want to operate a successful business, you have to continue to really watch everything and stay on top of it,” he said.
Despite the challenges of the last few years, Solé Restaurant was named one of the top 100 brunch spots in Canada by OpenTable, along with five other local restaurants: Charcoal Steak House (Kitchener), Golf's Steak House & Seafood (Kitchener), The Bauer Kitchen (Waterloo), and Cambridge Mill and Blackshop Restaurant & Lounge (Cambridge).
The rankings are decided by restaurant patrons, who vote for their favourite spots. More than 800,000 people voted this time around.
Cerny said it “feels awesome” to be named one of the best brunch spots across Canada, but he’s also thrilled that five other local restaurants made it to the list.
“That’s pretty huge for our area. I think it says a lot about the level of dining we’re able to attain in the region.”
Their brunch features their regular lunch menu, as well as a limited addition menu, both with high quality ingredients and house-made sauces.
One of their most popular brunch dishes is the lobster and shrimp eggs benedict, which he says is “divine.”
“The passion that goes into the creation of the food is huge … almost a labour of love. It does become more challenging with today’s supply chain [issues] and all that stuff, but it’s absolutely worth every effort to execute it.”
Solé Restaurant and Wine Bar was recently also listed on OpenTable’s top 100 patios.