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Heritage architecture and cultural cuisine come together at new Guelph restaurant

This week's Mid-Week Mugging features Alex and Marisa Tami and their new restaurant, Sugo on Surrey

The population of Guelph is a melting pot of cultures with a strong Italian flavour and that is reflected in the menu at Guelph’s newest restaurant, Sugo on Surrey.

“We’re an Italian-influenced restaurant,” said owner and general manager Alex Tami. “I wouldn’t go full-fledged Italian. We do take other influences. We have some New Orleans influence. We even have a Thai pizza. Mind you it’s not Thai and it’s not Italian but we are taking influences from other regions around the world and implementing them into our menu.”

The restaurant’s name, however, is “full-fledged” Italian.

“Sugo actually means 'sauce' in Italian,” said Alex. “We do love our sauces here.”

Alex’s wife and Sugo’s operations manager Marisa Tami comes from a Portuguese background but she has picked up a few Italian terms from Alex’s family.

“His nonna has always called it sugo and so has the rest of the family,” said Marisa. “Other Italians are like, ‘Hey, that’s a good sugo,’ without us saying anything. So, it’s a well-known term for Italians.”

The restaurant opened to the public yesterday but they held a soft opening on the weekend to give close friends and family a premier sampling of the menu.

“It was really good,” said Marisa. “We got a lot of valuable feedback. It was nice to have the feedback from family.”

Owning a restaurant was a childhood dream for Alex.

“I have always wanted to ever since I was in grade six,” he said. “I wanted to become a chef but I always wanted to have something of my own. Initially I wanted to do a catering business but ever since I was introduced to restaurants I have loved it.”

Alex grew up in Guelph, one of three children born to Albert and Linda Tami. He graduated from St James Catholic High School then went north to get the education and experience he needed to get into the restaurant business.

“I went to culinary school in North Bay at Canadore College for about four years,” said Alex. “I started off managing the campus bar in North Bay then I moved on to manage a campus bar in Bracebridge right out of school. I stayed there for a year then moved back to Guelph and got a management position at Symposium. That’s where I met my assistant general manager Mike Davidson.”

Marisa traveled north as well but five years later and on a different route that eventually brought her and Alex together.

“I grew up in Waterloo and went to Bluevale for high school then I went to Laurier to get my undergrad in international languages,” she said. “I did my bachelor of education at Nipissing University in North Bay. We just got married in July so, it has been a big year.”

Family and community are very important to Alex and Marisa.

“My dad has been a great support through this all,” said Alex. “He owns Tambro Construction and is a deacon over at Church of Our Lady. My brother Nathan works for my dad. He is the general manager of Tambro Construction.”

The restaurant’s location at 117 Surrey St. E was originally owned by Guelph industrialist William Allen and has a family lineage of it’s own.

“William Allen moved to Guelph and built this house in honour of his grandfather who was also named William Allen,” said Alex. “The original William Allen died in 1862 and his grandson built this house in 1865. There was an expansion done in the ‘60s in the back, which is now our private room.“

Alex’s father and brother have helped with the restoration of the 150 year-old heritage home and his sister Faren Tami has helped with the interior design.

“She’s a fashion designer in Toronto,” said Marisa. “There is some photography of her clothing in one of the bathrooms and we have some more of her artwork as well.”

Executive chef Brian Baxendale is in charge of the kitchen.

“We met at Milestones and worked together for about six or seven years,” said Alex. “He was the executive chef and I was the front of house manager.”

It’s an arrangement they have carried over to Sugo on Surrey.

“I had the kitchen experience and the love for food but I also love the social aspect of being in the front of house and talking to people - seeing what they like and what they don’t like,” said Alex. “I love making conversation and meeting new people.”

They try as much they can to source their meats, breads and other supplies locally and hope to attract customers from the community with a variety of tastes and traditions.

“We are all from different backgrounds, all of us working here,” said Marisa. “There’s Italian heritage but we are Canadian born and raised. We want to have that melting pot that we have in Canada with all of its different cultures.”