Sofia’s opens as a Mediterranean restaurant at Lakewood Ranch | east county

Musician Taddeo Scalici strummed his guitar and entertained guests at Sofia‘s grand opening at Lakewood Ranch on August 13 by singing some Italian classics.

Meanwhile, his eyes followed Sofia’s owner, Angelo DiFiore, as he walked from table to table greeting guests.

It was obvious that Scalici was over the moon that his friend had opened the Mediterranean-style restaurant on Lakewood Main Street.

“He’s a little crazy,” Scalici said of DiFiore. “But in a good way.

“He has a big heart.”

Unlike Scalici, who met DiFiore in Italy decades ago, those who came to opening night at Sofia’s may have only experienced DiFiore’s cuisine at Sarasota-area restaurants in recent years.

But they are addicted.

“We followed him to every restaurant,” said Sarasota’s Dot Rogel, who greeted DiFiore with a huge hug. “We love him very much. It’s his willingness to please everyone. He is wonderful.”

Alexis Meholic of Lakewood Ranch said she can’t wait for Sofia to open.

“Oh my god, I can’t put it into words,” she said. “I’m excited. I’ve lived here for six years after moving from Washington DC and I can tell we needed something really good here. Now we have it.”

DiFiore opened with an invite-only event, offering a buffet only on the first night. The invitees weren’t just friends or previous guests. Some, like Glenn and Barbara Welder of Country Club East, happened to be dining next door at Remy’s On Main and saw the renovation taking place. Previously, the space was the University of South Florida’s Sarasota-Manatee Culinary Innovation Laboratory.

The Wethers stopped, knocked on Sofia’s door, and asked what time the restaurant was open. They received an invitation to the opening night.

They couldn’t wait.

“It’s such a beautiful, upscale place,” said Barbara Welch.

The Lake Club’s Marybeth and Jay Traverso helped make everything look beautiful on opening night by donating their manpower to convert the culinary innovation lab into a restaurant over the past four months. The Traversos simply loved DiFiore’s cooking at several Sarasota restaurants over the years, and they became friends with him.

They liked his cooking so much that they hired him to host some private parties at their house. When DiFiore told them he wanted to find a restaurant at Lakewood Ranch, they decided to help.

Before opening his restaurant on August 13, DiFiore gathered his staff for an encouraging chat. Along with emphasizing teamwork and greeting customers with smiles and pleasantries, DiFiore made it clear that he would never be too busy to handle even the smallest of complaints.

“Come to me,” he said to his staff. “It’s not a problem at all. If something is wrong, we can make another one.”

After addressing his staff, DiFiore went outside to address the public on the sidewalk. Marybeth Traverso had adorned the exterior of the restaurant and hung a ribbon down the length.

DiFiore grabbed a pair of scissors and walked to the tape, his back to those waiting on the sidewalk for the premiere. He was prompted to cut the ribbon as he faced the crowd.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m not used to it. I’ve never done it.”

He ducked under the ribbon and thanked everyone for their support. Of course, among the crowd were those who had followed him through his many careers as a chef.

“This time…” he said as he cut the ribbon, “…I won’t move anymore.”

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