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Growth and Transformation:

Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group Becomes a Legacy Family Business

Photo by Rebecca Lippiatt.

It all started in 1979 with a social teacher that wanted pizza for dinner. Carmelo Rago and his father-in-law, Maurizio Saccomanno, had stepped out for dinner together that day and were surprised to learn that the pizza restaurant where they were enjoying their meal was for sale. Rago made a snap decision to transition from teacher to pizzeria owner, and yes, his family was very concerned.

“You’re a teacher!” was the prevailing argument, but Carmelo was adamant that he knew what he was doing. Maurizio, seeing the determination and drive of his son-in-law, realized that greatness was about to happen and offered to help Carmelo in this new venture.

It was a fortuitous decision. Today the Rago and Saccomanno families are pleased to helm Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group, the umbrella company consisting of six Sorrentino’s premium casual restaurants along with Bistecca Steakhouse + Wine Bar, three Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bars, two Caffè Sorrentino’s, Sorrentino’s cooking classes, and a catering department.

For locals in and around Edmonton, the name Sorrentino’s means a night out in a contemporary Italian restaurant where the setting is perfect for lingering over pasta and wine or having a romantic date. Caffè Sorrentino is where to get delicious Lavazza coffee that is always brewed to perfection, baked goods, pasta and salad for lunch. Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bars are fun and trendy restaurants, the newer iterations of the brand for the more casual generation.

It is this generational shift that sees the Rago/Saccomanno legacy continue.

“The decision was made by the commitment made by the next generation, primarily our sons Maurizio, Carmelo Jr., Pasquale and Antonio, to join the family business, says Carmelo Sr. This prompted me to think ahead and evolve the concept of Sorrentino’s to include Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bar.”

For the family, Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bar is more than an exciting new venture. Having all the sons decide to continue within the business shows not just the strength of the brand, but of the family as well. It was this strength that has helped the Ragos and Saccomannos through some very trying times.

Maurizio, the man who helped Carmelo launch the brand, the man that believed in him from the start, and the man that encouraged and supported him from the get-go, suddenly passed in a tragic traffic accident in 1991. From that moment, Carmelo’s wife Stella and brothers-in-law, Frank, Matteo and Pasquale, stepped in to help Carmelo with the restaurants. The ongoing family bond and dedication helped propel Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group to the very popular and beloved brand it is known as today. The dining experiences in all of the restaurants and Caffés go beyond the delicious food, pizza, pasta, wine and coffee. Every patron instantly becomes part of the Rago/Saccomanno family. Their care, support, and passion are evident in every facet of the brand.

Maurizio, Carmelo Jr., Pasquale and Antonio grew up watching diners flock to Sorrentino’s, and as the newest generation on board, they bring a fresh perspective to the tradition of Italian food. Of course, there are things that cannot be improved upon. As with Sorrentino’s, Buco uses as many denominazione di origine protetta (aka D.O.P., protected designation of origin) products as possible. That means most of the ingredients are lovingly grown or raised by farmers in Italy. The pizza dough is also traditional (just flour, yeast, salt and water) and is always tossed by hand. The dough is never mechanically stretched – not even a rolling pin is used. The classic Italian birch wood oven is a kitchen staple, and the assaggini (small plates), antipasti (appetizers), zuppa and insalate (soup and salads), griglia (grill), pasta and panini (made in-house) and the dolci (desserts) are as authentic as if you were enjoying them on a patio in Tuscany.

The difference between the dining rooms of Sorrentino’s and the recently opened Buco is the vibe and the energy. Buco brings fine dining to the crowd that wants sumptuous meals in a more casual atmosphere. The second generation of the family is serving the second generation of Sorrentino’s diners – and there is plenty of room in both restaurants for everyone that has fallen in love with the brand.

“Sharing an authentic Italian food and wine experience is like sharing a little piece of ourselves with everyone,” say the families. “We bring that Sunday family dinner experience where a busy family gathers to dine and catch up with everyone. Across the brand, staying true to our fundamental and core values from our heritage – both Italian and Canadian – and using only the freshest ingredients that both countries have to offer, keeps Sorrentino’s, Buco, Bistecca, our cooking classes, catering team and the Caffès trendy, relevant, and always in demand.”

Regarding the generational shift, Stella notes, “At our core, our values remain the same but how we communicate our message and the way we execute has grown and transformed.”

As the Rago and Saccomanno families reflect on the 40-year journey, they reminisce about the joy they have found in business, with their staff, and with the many loyal patrons they serve.

“You meet people from all walks of life and each one brings that special something to the table – no pun intended!” they agree. “We have made many lasting relationships and friendships through our restaurants, which we will treasure forever.”

They continue, “It’s always been a priority in our company to promote our heritage in its truest form. Italy is a country of regions and each region is proud of what it produces. Hence, the menus are focused on regional cuisine, showcasing what their region can produce. Within all of our concepts, we try to replicate this on a daily basis through our regular menus by using authentic Italian ingredients from the various regions, while also incorporating our local products, which complement each other. On top of that, we introduce promotions that highlight Italian food and wine culture.”

These promotions include Buco’s monthly Ciao Italia dinners where regional foods and wines are paired. Then there is Sorrentino’s famous seasonal mushroom harvest specials, the always anticipated annual garlic festival, the back-to-basics special menu, and more.

However, while change is inevitable, some things will always stay the same.

Carmelo laughs, “There are a few favorites on the Sorrentino’s menu that we cannot part with without having a revolution on our hands! The pasta dishes created by one of our original chefs, Bruce Semak, are still among our top five most popular dishes, but the number one staple remains our penne Mediterranean.”

Maurizio, Carmelo Jr., Pasquale and Antonio are quickly discovering their diners’ favourites as well, citing the Neapolitan-style pizzas, assaggini, and risotto and the most popular dishes so far.

Also incredibly popular are the cooking classes held at Sorrentino’s.

“The theme always varies,” says Stella, “but the top themes are date night, pasta making, gnocchi, Spanish tapas, and as of late, our Canadian food focus such as our Nova Scotia class.”

All the restaurants and the catering under the Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group (SRG) banner continue to provide both established and new dishes. In fact, Carmelo has been working hard with his chefs to debut several new options in 2020.

Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group is known for its community service as much as it is known for its authentic dining experiences.

“We support various projects throughout our lovely Edmonton community,” say the Rago and Saccomanno families. “We are proud to have been involved with the CJ Woods Prostate Clinic, the Lois Hole Hospital, Sorrentino’s Compassion House, and more. We look at our community involvement as a privilege – one that we hope our children will carry on. We tend to select one cause on a yearly basis and focus our charity events around that project. This helps to provide a platform for the cause to aid in spreading their message as well as raise necessary funds. This year, for example, was all about supporting the Pilgrim’s Hospice Society’s campaign (A Home for Hospice) to help raise funds to build a new and much needed facility in the beautiful Crestwood community. Now, the Roozen Family Hospice Centre is currently under construction.”

The Ragos and Saccomannos are very quick to acknowledge the roles their staff have played in the 40-year history of the brand.

“Our employees are the most valuable assets of our group and the key to our success in today’s competitive market. Our families are extremely proud to have so many long-term employees. Our long-term employees have helped us start and grow the company. They were the foundation for our venture and now provide continuity between where we have been and what we plan to become as a company.”

As for that future plan, “We will review the progress of Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group, identify how we can make the most of the market position we have established in the last 40 years, and decide as a family where to take our business next and define how we are going to get there.”

However, as that plan shapes into being, one thing is clear: Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group has always had the recipe for success and even though the ingredients change from time to time, the end result consistently remains something the family, the patrons, and the team love time after time, year after year, and now generation after generation.

Discover the many ways you can enjoy authentic Italian family dining by visiting www.sorrentinos.com.