Celebrating 30 Years
Sotto Sotto Ristorante Timeline
Take a trip down memory lane in celebration of Ristorante Sotto Sotto’s 30th Anniversary in Toronto.
Thank you Toronto,
Narrated by Sotto Sotto founder/owner Marisa Rocca
Marisa Early Life
I grew up in Rome, Italy. Our tiny 3 room house had the burden of accommodating my parents, my three siblings and myself. It was cramped but we made it work. To say that we led an extremely modest life, would be putting it mildly. However, by nature, I am very optimistic and I truly believed that life would not always be as it was at the time. I had my dreams, among which was a deep, imbedded desire for a better and bigger life.
Many times, riding on the bus with my friends through the city, I would see the possibilities of that dream. The city was adorned with beautiful buildings and the streets were flooded with well dressed men and women.
A question would always run through my mind in a loop. How do I get from here, to there? That question always brought a smile to my face every time it played in my mind because I knew, I not only could do it, but I would do it. You can never give up on your dreams.
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Moving to Canada
One day an opportunity arose by way of a very good friend who lived in Toronto. I was guaranteed a place to live and a job. All I had to do was buy a ticket and get on a plane. That is exactly what I did. I was ready to leave Rome and start a new life in Toronto, Canada.
With my limited English and few skills, the only job available to me was that of dishwasher at a popular downtown restaurant. It wasn't glamorous, but, it was a job and I was happy to get it.
I worked hard and took pride in my work.
Over time, as my English improved, I quickly moved on from dishwashing into the kitchen, cooking, onto the floor as a busser, server and eventually manager.
I absorbed all the knowledge I gained from my various positions and this knowledge served me well when I moved on to my next chapter of life.
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Opening Sotto Sotto
1993 was a big year for me. I was a newlywed bride and about to open my first restaurant, Sotto Sotto. I was excited but it was an arduous undertaking. My partner and I worked day and night. Thankfully, I married a very understanding and supportive husband who alleviated my guilt about spending what seemed like endless hours at the restaurant. Social media was nonexistent, therefore, Sotto Sotto had to rely on word of mouth to fill its seats.
At first, guests trickled in but, over time, that trickle turned into a pour and I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. My partner and I went separate ways, however I was still dedicated to succeeding. My restaurant was on the rise and I was on my way to "getting there" I would soon realize the scope of that success.
“...then i got into the restaurant business, and i was good at it.”
As the nights became busier, Sotto Sotto was developing a wonderful reputation, again, through word of mouth from its growing clientele. As such, many of the hotels within the downtown core felt confident in recommending Sotto Sotto to their guests. Whether the guests asked for us specifically or they were new to the city and looking for a great Italian restaurant, the concierges trusted me and my staff to take excellent care of them. Reservations from the hotels for their guests became a nightly occurrence. This combination greatly contributed to Sotto Sotto becoming THE place to go, especially during the Toronto International Film Festival. During this time, we welcomed a full array of customers: regulars, first timers, celebrities and many others involved in the film industry.
Looking back, it's hard to imagine how I managed to start a family during these whirl wind and hectic times. But, I did manage it.
I welcomed a son, and less than two years after his birth, I had a daughter. These two blessings are my world, but I will always consider Sotto Sotto as my first born child. My kids would argue that Sotto Sotto is, indeed, their other sibling, the one who is most demanding and constantly vying for my attention.
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2014 was another major year for me. However, it was not one highlighted by excitement and hope, but rather one shrouded in devastation and uncertainty. On December 25th, while I was away with my family for the Christmas Holidays, I received a phone call informing me that Sotto Sotto was on fire.
The time between that moment when I heard the news and my arrival at the scene is a blur, and as I stood and watched while everything I had worked so hard to achieve go up in flames, I was paralyzed by grief. But, suddenly, I was jolted into survival mode. I had my staff to consider and a business to rebuild.
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With the help of my unrelenting staff and supportive clients and friends, we performed a Herculean task. In just 51 days, we succeeding in reopening Sotto Sotto, just a few doors down from its original location.
Though it wasn't perfect, it was a good start. Soon it became apparent that we had not only survived but also begun to flourish once again.
“Over the 30 years, I always had great teams.”
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Never take anything for granted or become complacent. I live in this mindset because you never know what's around the corner. 2021 proved my point as COVID hit the world and through no fault of our own, we were forced to close the restaurant.
We had to adapt to new government rules and restrictions. At first, for Sotto Sotto, this meant relying entirely on take out and online business. It was difficult but we persevered and as orders steadily grew, day after day, we were able to stay afloat.
Eventually, when we were allowed to open we could only do so at fifty percent capacity, which meant we still had to rely on takeout orders to compensate for the vacant seats.
Thanks, again, to our loyal and supportive clientele, we managed to weather the storm until it was finally over and we were back to business as usual, where we happily remain today.
To Mama Laura, thank you for your limitless hours at the restaurant, to supporting my endeavours, and for being an amazing Nonna to my kids.
To my hard working staff who make navigating a busy restaurant look easy, you have my profound appreciation for all you do. You are the wheels that keep Sotto Sotto running.
To my wonderful, loyal clientele whose patronage has never wavered throughout the years, I offer an endless bounty of thanks. You have played a pivotal role in the longevity of Sotto Sotto.
To my amazing and loving family and friends, who have always been there to support and encourage me, I owe you an undying debt of gratitude.
I share Sotto Sotto's 30 year celebration with all of you.
Thank you for helping me realize my dreams.
“... everyday I say to God, I am grateful.”