Is bigger better? That’s the question I’m pondering as I wait for a table at Sol’s NYC Delicatessen, the non-kosher, Jewish-style deli from chef Sol Shenker that opened in February in Main Street’s defunct Applebee’s.
Shenker launched the restaurant after a very public split with his brother-in-law, Meyer Samotin, a former partner at Sol Meyer NY Delicatessen, which was just down the road from Shenker’s new space. Shenker blamed Samotin for raising prices at Sol Meyer and even called Samotin “greedy” in the pages of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, an insult that’s sure to make for some awkward conversation around the dinner table this Thanksgiving.
The former Applebee’s has been redesigned nicely. Sol’s features black and white tile flooring up front and a giant splashy photo of midtown Manhattan around the Flatiron Building. The new restaurant is much bigger than Sol Meyer—with something like four times the seating, plus a full bar.
The food at Sol Meyer was excellent, but one consistent knock was that landing a table could prove challenging. Even with all the extra seats, eating at the new Sol’s presents problems, too. My 15-minute wait stretches to half an hour. I can’t stand around any longer; I’ve got to get back to the office. The next day, I return for lunch, and the wait’s the same. For anyone with a boss, ducking in and out of Sol’s for a midday restorative might not be a realistic option. Eventually, I knuckle under and order a $14 brisket sandwich to go through the restaurant’s online system, but the meat is disappointingly tough and chewy. Even oodles of spicy mustard can’t bring it to life. I’ll reserve judgment, though, until I manage to get in for lunch and sample more.
So, bigger? Better? We’ll see.
Kickstarting a Dream
For husband and wife Jason and Alicia Bolden, bigger is definitely better. The couple opened the Puerto Rican takeout restaurant Sofrito Mama’s in January 2012 in a corner of Sarasota Commons, the north Beneva shopping center. But thanks to word of mouth and excellent reviews, the eatery’s 520 square feet just aren’t enough anymore, and the Boldens are often forced to turn away customers because they’ve run out of food.
So the couple is eyeing a space almost directly adjacent to their current spot that was recently vacated by Rosati’s, a pizza joint. At 2,100 square feet, the restaurant would allow Sofrito Mama’s to offer tables and service, plus give them space for more equipment, like a much-needed walk-in cooler. To fund the move, the Boldens are looking for investors and have also launched a Kickstarter campaign asking customers to back them.
Jason, 42, says he and Alicia, 41, want to lessen the stress they experienced when they first launched Sofrito Mama’s. “We opened our doors with nothing in the bank,” Jason says. They used the revenue from their first day in business to purchase produce for day two. The cramped kitchen at the current spot adds physical stress to the financial kind. Alicia handles what Jason calls the “long-distance” items—long-simmering stews and beans and rice. Having one stove means she can only use three pots at a time. With dishes that take two to three hours apiece, that means extra hours on her feet watching over the food.
The Boldens’ Kickstarter goal is aggressive ($108,000) and, as of press time, the couple has raised only $629. The crowdfunding site has become a popular go-to for aspiring food entrepreneurs, but breaking through isn’t easy. The site is home to 430 active food business fund-raising campaigns, and some of the best-funded businesses have celebrity connections, like a new New York City restaurant from Carla Hall, a cohost on ABC’s The Chew. But Jason says that even if he and Alicia fall short of their full target, they’ll make a move to a dine-in restaurant soon. “It’s an absolute need for us,” he says. “We don’t have the capacity to serve the people that are coming.”
Mark Gabrick began selling slow-smoked brisket and pulled pork at the downtown Sarasota Farmers Market in late 2013, picking up a legion of fans and awards. But he’s struggled to find a restaurant space that’s big enough to house the legendary J&R Oyler smoker he wants to use, but that’s not too big for a first-time restaurateur. Finally, though, we’re hearing reports that he’s very close to signing a lease. Visions of brisket dance before our eyes.