Faces of Downtown Raleigh: Jerome and Luciano of Sosta Cafe
When I first began blogging, I talked about food. It’s what I know and love, and my first post was about Sosta Café. At the time I was visiting them about once a week, and to this day I still go there quite frequently and order the Poulet (curried chicken salad sandwich), although the Piedmont (Prosciutto and taleggio cheese with tomato and lettuce on ciabatta bread) is a close second. I think Sosta is a true neighborhood hangout. Spend any amount of time in there and you’ll hear Jerome or Luciano greet almost everyone by name.
Luciano hails from Southern Italy and Jerome from southern France, so it’s not too uncommon to hear multiple languages spoken in the café, quickly transporting you to another place. Sosta Café gives downtown Raleigh an exciting taste of Europe – in our own back yard.
I took some time to interview Jerome and Luciano the other day to learn more about what they think of downtown Raleigh now that they have been open for almost 5 years.
Why Downtown Raleigh?
We had both been in the restaurant business for a long time, so when we met (we were neighbors in Oakwood), we would talk about things like quality of food and quality of life. Restaurants take a lot out of you and demand a lot of time. We thought there was an opportunity to open a small café downtown that would serve the kind of food that we were used to eating in our native countries. The product would have to be good and we wanted to do it ourselves, because that is what we love. We didn’t want to be a huge restaurant with lots of staff where we only came in once a week to check on things. We love being involved day to day, meeting people, and serving great food.
You’re coming up on 5 years, so you seem to be doing well.
We are doing well and appreciate all of our regular customers. We have regulars from the local law firms, architecture firms, ArtSpace, banks, and Progress Energy, of course.
We have all kinds of ideas of how to expand our hours and menu to serve more residents, but the timing hasn’t been right. Back in 2006 the economy was strong, so when this space became available we jumped on it. Right now I wouldn’t describe Davie Street as a hotbed of activity, but most people seem to be willing to walk the extra block or two for a great lunch experience.
Being downtown! Sidewalks. Buildings. People walking by. You feel like you’re in the middle of things. People live here – they don’t just sleep. They’re out and about. There is activity. Life. The suburbs can be isolating, we’ve both lived there before. In the city you’re more connected.
Who does all the cooking? Where do the recipes come from?
We use product that we know – pestos, cheese. Our menu is what we would eat at home. Most of our cheeses are very distinct. Sometimes it can be harder when you try to be original, either people don’t understand or aren’t familiar with the menu item, so we have made a few modifications for this market.
What do you see as downtown Raleigh’s next important step? Do you think they are going in the right direction?
Raleigh is still developing and has a way to go. Connecting all the neighborhoods is important for a unified downtown. As a merchant, we’d like to see more events that don’t close off streets, but encourage visitors to wander around downtown to support the local businesses. Raleigh Wide Open, for example, brings in food vendors, and that limits the business for small cafes like ours that would serve lunch or a snack. We have so many ideas that we’d like to try, but right now the bulk of the traffic is over lunch during the weekday. For us, we’re looking forward to the development of the Edison which will be right across the street. We think it will link this part of downtown to Martin and Hargett St.
Final question – what is your favorite menu item and what would you suggest to a newcomer to your café?
Jerome’s favorite menu item is the Ultimate Cheese Sandwich and Luciano’s favorite is the Alpine. They would both recommend the Riviera to a newcomer, unless they were a meat-lover. In that case, Luciano suggests the Guido.
View the menu: http://sostacafe.com/