It’s Tuesday night and the Rhizome Cafe at 317 E Broadway near Main is bustling with activity. The glassed-in meeting room has a group of people clustered around a table, meeting. Lisa Moore is in the kitchen preparing food, while Vinetta Lenavat greets their guests. Remembering names, introducing people to one another, Lenavat makes us feel like guests at a party rather than anonymous customers.
It was only a year ago that the couple, together for 10 years this month, took occupancy of the space. It took them three months to set up the space to open the cafe and community space. “We wanted to be here for the long term” says Lenavat. This time period is described by both as hell. “With the construction boom on it was difficult to get tradespeople in, and everything took longer and cost more than expected. It was hard waiting, paying rent and not being able to open.” explains Moore.
A year of preparation and business planning went in before they even found the location. Lenavat, a Canadian, sponsored Moore, an American, to immigrate to Canada. “We didn’t know anyone in Vancouver when we first got here.” says Moore. The couple have come a long way since then. Moore and Lenavat surveyed local folks, and in the process built considerable support for the cafe’s concept of community building and organizing. “As soon as we opened our calendar started to fill up with meetings and crazy projects. We had people tell us ‘I had this idea for a long time for this thing I wanted to do and I never had a place to do it’. ” says Moore. “We haven’t had to look for people, they’ve come to us and if we had they’d be the ones we’d want here. This tells us this cafe was something wanted and needed.”
The name Rhizome refers to a root system that some plants like lilies, orchids, ginger and bamboo use to spread themselves about. A rhizome root system runs parallel to the surface of the ground and the plants send shoots up from the nodes in the rhizome, creating what looks like many separate plants. These seemingly unrelated individuals are actually all connected, through a system that’s not immediately visible to the eye. The name summarizes the philosophy of the cafe, which is held as a place for progressive community groups to meet and hold classes, events, forums and film screenings. They also host performances and show the work of local artists.
They’re not kidding about their calendar being full. In February alone they had 13 different events, plus two art installations, in addition to all the groups meeting privately in the meeting space. One event caught my eye – called ‘Board Games are So Gay!’ it is billed as a queer friendly board games night, which I’m told was a huge success that is likely to be repeated, with fun music from a dj, board games and even twister.
The food is made with fresh ingredients hand selected by Lenavat each day, and includes several vegan and vegetarian options. When asked which menu item is their favourite or specialty, the couple couldn’t pick. Each recipe is attached to a friend or favourite place, and besides, they eat three meals a day at the cafe.
So what’s it like running a cafe as a couple? Says Lenavat “Our relationship in the last 10 years, we go for challenges and that’s what keeps us together.”
More info on the Rhizome is available at www.rhizomecafe.ca
Sophia Kelly, Editor – www.lesbianquarterly.com