Walking into a sandwich shop for the first time during lunch hour and encountering a line to the door can induce a swell of feelings — hunger, of course, being the primary one, and it tends to come with a side of impatience.
While waiting in that line, though, the sights and smells of the bustling business and the chatter of its satisfied patrons beckons a second surge of emotions — excitement and mouthwatering anticipation — as you realize your taste buds are in for a treat.
Such is the case at downtown’s newest Italian eatery, , which has quickly risen in the ranks as a local favorite since it opened its doors at 1668 Main Street on May 10.
Mozzarella Fella is owned and operated by husband and wife duo, Michael and Victoria Calore, who hail from Staten Island, New York, where for nine years they ran a casual fine dining Italian restaurant called Es-Ca. After nearly a decade of maintaining the grueling hours that accompany running a full-service restaurant and bar, the Calores were ready for a change of pace — and a change of location, too.
While she was growing up, Victoria, a native of Brooklyn, frequently visited the Sarasota area with her family. When she and her husband visited last February with their own children, she recalled the entire family sharing the same sentiment.
“We didn’t want to go home,” Calore said. “As soon as we got back, we started making plans to move to Sarasota.”
The Calores moved to Sarasota in September and immediately began looking for a place to open a new restaurant — this time with a greater focus on creating the relaxed atmosphere of a casual neighborhood sandwich shop, rather than a full-service fine dining establishment.
“We have kids and family time is important to us, but we weren’t getting enough of that with the restaurant in New York. We were working until 3am every weekend,” Calore recalled.
“We wanted something that felt more ‘Sarasota’— a place with a comfortable, casual neighborhood feel, where we know all of our customers and just serve good, consistent food with fresh ingredients every day.”
At Mozzarella Fella, the promise of fresh and local ingredients is a very serious one.
Every morning, the Calores pick up fresh local produce from the Big Apple Market on 12th Street. The shop receives its bread from the on Tamiami Trail and its meats from . Even Mozzarella Fella’s wine is purchased locally.
“We’re a small business, and as far as we’re concerned, what better way is there to help the people around you than to support their businesses?" Calore said. "We local businesses have to stick together. We keep each other growing”
Calore said that she and her husband have been astounded by the support Mozzarella Fella has received from other downtown businesses and their customers.
“One of the things we loved about downtown Sarasota was the camaraderie amongst the local businesses," she said."Rather than competition, the amount of restaurant-to-restaurant support is amazing.”
“It shocked me how much better we’ve been received by the community as a whole than we ever were in New York," Calore added. "Sarasota has really embraced us, and it feels like the people who have been coming our customers for a month have known us for ten years. We couldn’t have asked for better.”
The service and the food at Mozzarella Fella are, of course, what keep customers coming back. Just one taste of the simple-but-delicious fresh mozzarella sandwich with tomato, baby arugula and basil oil is enough to explain why.
Other popular menu items, like the veal cutlet sandwich with broccoli rabe, sundried tomatoes and fresh mozzarella; or the Mesclun salad with caramelized walnuts, craisins and goat cheese come straight from the recipe book of Michael Calore, who generally mans the kitchen while his wife takes care of business at the front of the house.
In addition to fresh made-to-order sandwiches and salads, Mozzarella Fella also carries a selection of prepared foods for people on the go who want a hearty Italian meal they can simply heat up for dinner.
“Even though we didn’t want to really get back into running a full-service restaurant, my husband loves to cook and he’s good at what he does," Calore said. "Once we were down here, we realized that there aren’t many places outside of grocery stores that carry prepared foods, so this seemed like a good answer to that.”
Mozzarella Fella also provides off-premises catering services. The restaurant will make its first big catering debut at the ’s art show opening, Moving Through Time, on Saturday, June 30, where they will provide free appetizers during the event. Mozzarella Fella will also be present to at the American Cancer Society’s Sept. 18 fundraiser during cocktail hour.
“Opening a restaurant can always be kind of scary, but the community has been so phenomenally supportive and we’re happy to give back where we can,” Calore said.
“Our philosophy is that if you put out a good product and stay consistent, people will come back. We’re excited to join the business community in downtown Sarasota, and can’t wait to meet more of our neighbors.”
1668 Main St., Sarasota
Hours: Mon - Fri 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sat 10:30 a.m. to 5pm; closed Sun