- July 18, 2018
A surfer most of his life, Sergio Di Sarro continues to ride the wave.
It's the wave of success.
He's been a successful restaurateur in Brazil, Argentina and in the U.S., as owner of a restaurant in Santa Cruz, California after moving there in the early 1990s.
Now he has bought Main Street Trattoria in Lakewood Ranch from original owner Gary Fennessy, who retired from the business Sept. 12.
Di Sarro, who has lived in Sarasota for a year, knows that, like surfing, the restaurant business has its risks. Which is more dangerous?
"They are about the same," Di Sarro said. 'The adrenaline is the same."
His adrenaline is pumping now as he opened the doors to his new restaurant just two weeks ago. He has to temper that excitement, though, because he said he has a lot of work to do. He wanted to open as quickly as possible because he has retained "90%" of Fennessy's 35 employees.
"They are loyal people," he said. "And everyone got a raise."
He didn't want his restaurant workers, who all have been through enough during the pandemic, to be out of work for long. The result, though, is that some of the walls of the restaurant are somewhat bare as Di Sarro waits for his interior decorations to arrive. The supply chain during the pandemic is slow moving.
"Everything is back ordered," he said.
The food, however, is ready to go. Di Sarro has been in the kitchen since opening day working with his chefs.
"You can't teach it if you don't know how to do it," he said.
Growing up in Mar del Plata, Argentina, his parents, Osweldo and Esther Di Sarro, were immigrants from Genoa, Italy.
They operated a hotel and restaurant in the resort community along Argentina's Atlantic coast. By the time he was 10, he was working on the front desk. And when he turned 13, he started working in the kitchen. By 20, he was a prep guy in the kitchen who also was working toward a culinary/hospitality degree in college.
Wherever he has gone, he has brought along his passion for Italian cooking with an Argentinian flair. That will continue on Lakewood Main Street.
"In Argentina, we had handmade pasta, bread, desserts, and a lot of beef," he said. "Cooking was part of my life."
Another part of his life was surfing, which he started when he was 12. Whether he was living in Mar del Plata, Rio de Janeiro or Santa Cruz, his work never was far from a coast. While Florida might not offer the biggest waves, once his restaurant is flowing smoothly, he will fly to Argentina for more surfing.
Now 56, he still is searching for that perfect wave, but he loves his new home even if he might have to travel to find the big waves.
"I am super excited living in the great state of Florida," he said. "I love it here. The people are nice and friendly and I love the weather. Here (on Lakewood Main Street), we have a lot of people walking around. I know we can make it."
Music on Main returns to Main Street at Lakewood Ranch on Nov. 5 and Di Sarro said he can't wait. He has heard positive stories from other business owners on Lakewood Main Street about what that event means.
Di Sarro still is working on his menu, and potential specials. He does know his restaurant will offer live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
The menu has changed since Fennessy left, but many Italian favorites remain.
"We will have more seafood, soups and specials," he said. "And it will be Argentina style."
His entrées include Patagonian pork loin ($23.95), salmon Greca ($23.95) and zuppa di Sergio ($26.95), which is a cioppino style dish. The many pasta entrées include his personal favorite, spicy rigatoni Calabrese ($17.95). His lighter menu includes burgers and a Jersey shore sub, among many others.
"My comfort is a trattoria," he said. "This is just the right size restaurant here, with (a customer base) that is not too old and not too young. Lakewood Ranch is a hot spot in the county."
He said he has kept the regular bar crowd at the restaurant, including a group he calls "the first corner (of the bar) people."
The restaurant will have more of a focus, he said, on the wine drinker, with more Malbecs and Cornets.
"We will take suggestions, of course," he said.
Business has been good since the restaurant opened and some customers were surprised with the new owner, but they offered good feedback "with their smiles."
"People are going to see me in the kitchen," he said. "So far, they have reviewed us in a positive way."
It's early, but he said along with his wife, Julieta, they have found a new business home.
"Your mind works two ways — positive and negative," he said. "If you dream something, it comes true if it is pure."