Stella and Carmelo Rago, Sorrentino’s

Stella and Carmello Rago have been in the restaurant business for over 30 years. Their start? One north end steak & pizza. Now they have 15 different restaurants, pubs and Sorrentino’s cafés.

The payroll has over 420 people. Several family members, including three sons, are an integral part of the business (one of the photos Stella sent to illustrator Gerry Rasmussen had 11 family members in it. Sadly, we could only fit four people into the drawing). Maurizio runs the airport location at present; Carmelo Junior works with café franchising, Pasquale owns a cafe and Tony plays for FC Edmonton.

But what really sets the Ragos apart is their commitment to raising money for things important to Edmontonians. For example, Sorrentino’s Compassion house.

“Our original commitment was for half a million,” says Carmelo. “We fulfilled that within five years, then we concentrated on other needs — prostate health ($100,000,000), the Lois Hole Hospital (approximately $100,000), and NAIT’s Culinary Institute ($100,000).”

“When we heard about the need to expand Sorrentino’s Compassion House, we did a few more fundraisers for that. When all is said and done, we’ve raised approximately $1,000,000 for Sorrentino’s Compassion House,” says Stella.

“There are so many good causes, but we like to choose causes where we can see the donation make a tangible difference, helping to build something from the ground up.”



Years in restaurant business?


Where would you like to live?

In Italy, especially Napoli, if you have the money.

Your favourite food and drink?

Stella: Steak and a nice glass of cabernet.

Carmelo: Spaghetti and tomato sauce with my dad’s homemade wine.

What would you be doing if you weren’t running restaurants?

Carmello: We were teachers by profession. Stella taught French and I taught social studies.

What do you most appreciate in your friends?


Your favourite qualities in a dish?

Simplicity, authenticity.

A cook?


A wine?

Full body.

Who would be at your dream dinner table (dead or alive)?

Both sets of parents, family and Pele.

Who would cook?

Stella: I would probably make a special lasagna with ricotta, béchamel and Bolognese.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Unbelievable!” We picked that up from a cousin in Toronto. It can mean anything.


There’re many people we look up to in Edmonton, but our work ethic comes from our parents and grandparents.

Favourite casual cheap and cheerful/afterwork food?

We like Wild Tangerine, it’s small and true to the ingredients.

What’s next?

We’re moving into some of the new neighbourhoods with a smaller footprint. For example Windermere will be 3,800 square feet; some of our locations are 7,000. We’re focusing more energy on the cafés — they are doing very well.

Meaningful/crazy experience?

Gretzky’s retirement in 1999. There have been a few memorable moments in our restaurants, but if we had to pick just one it would be that. Imagine 400 celebrity-struck guests at a cocktail party at Sorrentino’s Downtown.

We were sworn to secrecy, yet there was a lot of buzz. People would call looking for a way to come, but we couldn’t say anything. We had family disguised as waiters, a brother-in-law had a camera under his coat — this was way before iPhones — everybody went into a frenzy to get autographs. It was wild.

Best (cooking) thing that ever happened to you?

Sorrentino’s Compassion House. In a nutshell, it came at a right time for us. It was a perfect fit — we were ready to connect to see something from the ground up. We were able to watch it grow. That’s very satisfying. We met a lot of great people, we learned a lot; it paved the way for the fundraising we get to do today. It’s a privilege, and we couldn’t do it without our customers. They support our events — we live in a wonderful community.


Two things: Treat others as you want to be treated and you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.