This coming Mother’s Day, May 8, marks Café Baci’s final day of serving customers after 31 years of hosting countless families in the Sarasota area. Roberto Mei is the chef and founder of Café Baci, but this was not his first restaurant to gather communities and press. His restaurant history is rich with remarkable reviews and celebrity acknowledgements.
Coming from a family of restaurateurs, Mei opened the first Northern Italian Restaurant in Manhattan “Fontana di Trevi” on West 57th Street in 1952. It was this restaurant that was frequented by world-renowned singer-songwriter Billy Joel, with its convenient location across from Carnegie Hall.
“With his song ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,’ a seven-minute epic found on his 1977 studio album The Stranger,” Billy Joel wrote himself on American Songwriter. “He not only recounts an evening out at his favorite joint, but it blossoms into an examination of life.”
“It’s one of an unusual number of restaurant closings or sales in recent months, many of them notable community institutions,” Sarasota Herald Tribune wrote. “Some chefs had cited the recent labor shortage and higher food costs as part of their motivation to call it quits.”
“I have never before seen such a dramatic shift in the local dining scene as what I’ve witnessed during the past year, especially in recent months,” dining editor at the Sarasota Herald Tribune Wade Tatangelo wrote. “These are issues I’m afraid could contribute to hastening the retirements of more local restaurateurs while deterring others, including talented local chefs, from opening their own businesses.”
Higher cost of living in Sarasota and COVID-19 have made maintaining a business difficult, not accounting for the labor shortages and rising costs of food.
“As for the Demetrios’ in Bradenton and Café Baci in Sarasota, those places are truly local icons (if I can use the word one more time) and they will be greatly missed by myself and many others,” Tatangelo remarks.