By JACQUELINE BLACKWOOD/Montana State News

Tiffany Lach, owner of Bozeman’s local Sola Café, strives to create an environment that is “all about the people” with “good food plus good thought.” Lach’s ultimate goal when opening her café was to focus on creating an environment where people from the community can gather and enjoy delicious, locally grown food.

Sola Café is a local restaurant that makes “everything from scratch using only the freshest ingredients sourced as locally as possible,” according to the restaurant’s website. However, in Montana with winter weather that lasts longer than the growing season, it is difficult to find all the necessary items year-round.

Ingredients are often brought in from more Western states which have the available crops. However, Lach explains that they always try to remain as local as possible.

“It’s as much about quality as it is about local,” she said. “If it’s not good quality, we’ll buy from farther away.” According to Lach, quality depends on how the food is grown. She said, “If it’s grown with a bunch of chemicals or pesticides we won’t buy.”

According to Lach, one of the primary reasons she strives to buy local products is to aid the local Bozeman economy and to provide good food for the community.

“I was eating local long before I opened Sola,” she said. “I decided if I was going to open a restaurant it had to live by my values.”

Lach focuses on what she calls “the beauty of food.” As the sole creator of the original menu at Sola Café 11 years ago, Lach used her travels and experiences as her source of inspiration when creating meals. She claimed her greatest inspiration from her travels was Mediterranean food, primarily from Italy. Though, according to her, “European countryside-style cuisine” has also aided the menu quite a bit.

Now, several employees help to create the Sola Café menu and use culinary inspiration from all over the world. Yet, they still maintain Lach’s strong focus on the use of local ingredients. Sabrina Hayes, a baker at Sola Café said, “We get a lot of freedom in the bakery. We follow recipes, of course, but we’re always free to try new things or try new recipes if we have the time and resources.”

Culinary expertise is no foreign territory for Lach. Raised in a family with a dad who opened several of his own successful restaurants, Lach continued the family tradition and has since opened several successful businesses with a focus on the people.

Inspired by a mother and sister who were almost entirely gluten intolerant, Lach has created a menu which features bountiful gluten-free options both in the meal, quick bites and dessert sections.

Growing up, she said her mother and sister always struggled to find delicious culinary creations that met their dietary restrictions.

“Twenty-five to thirty percent of Sola Café cliental has some sort of dietary intolerance,” she said. “By focusing on making gluten-free food without compromising taste, customers can dine without worrying.”

Lach’s passion for bettering her community has inspired her to keep the café as involved in local charities as possible.One of the café’s most successful programs is called 10 Cents to Charity. According to the website, “every time you use any personal mug at Sola, we will give 10 cents to the month’s charitable organization.”

The restaurant will donate 20 cents if the customer uses the swap mug program. Swap mugs are Sola’s “mugs you never have to wash. You bring it in dirty, we give you a clean one and wash it for the next person to use,” according to the website.

Through 10 Cents to Charity, Sola Café had donated more than $11,000 to local charities.

Sola Café also sells gift certificates for local fundraisers.  Through this program, clubs, schools, or groups can fundraise by selling Sola Café gift certificates to friends and neighbors. The group keeps 20 percent of the total proceeds, according to the website.

When asked why community involvement is so important to Lach, she said, “It is important to figure out how to help.” She strives every day to find new and unique ways to aid her community in any way she can.

Since opening her café in Bozeman, Lach has found a way to combine this desire to give back to her community and her passion for art. Before opening Sola, Lach opened art studios and cafés in Santa Barbara, Calif. She learned quickly that art could be intimidating and daunting to the common customer.

Lach wanted Sola Café to display art in a way that was not intimidating to the customer and adds enjoyment to the entire Sola experience. The pieces of art displayed in the café are pieces by local artists and are, what Lach calls “happy art”.

The art displayed at Sola Café is all available for purchase. Before signing a gallery contract with the café, the artist and Sola agree on a charity. Sola takes 20 percent of any profit from sold artwork and donates it to that charity. The remaining 80 percent goes to the artist.

Although Lach may not display her artistic skills through canvas and paint like many of the café’s other artists, she describes herself as a “culinary and business artist.”

“She’s always eager to try new things and so she takes on a lot of orders and projects,” said Hayes. “Sometimes that’s stressful, but in the end it helps us figure out how to manage our time and get down to business.”

According to Hayes, due to Lach’s high expectations for her employees, “we end up learning a lot and developing in our field because of her drive and optimism.”

Alongside Sola Café in Bozeman, Lach owns Red Tractor Pizza, founded on the same values as the café. With the limited hours Sola is open, Lach wanted to have an available dinner location serving the same high quality food about which she is so passionate.

Both locations are always bustling with an air of camaraderie. With a large community table as well as a play area and family seating in the café, it seems Lach’s secret to success is centered on the belief that dining should always be a high-quality culinary experience to be enjoyed with friends and loved ones.

– Edited by Sabrina Hayes

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