Among all entry points to horse racing – the horses, wagering, fashion, becoming a jockey or trainer – Ronald, Joseph and Giovannina Solevo chose food. The sibling team, better known as Ronnie, Joe and Gi, opened in 2018 what has become one of Saratoga Springs’ toughest restaurants to book for a dinner reservation (or any meal during Saratoga‘s summer race meet): Solevo Kitchen + Social.
Still in their early 30s, the Solevos have made such an impression in Saratoga that some of the biggest personalities in the sport flock to Solevo Kitchen + Social as their go-to spot after a day at the track. Now, the restaurant is branching out (specifically, South) to the biggest winter racing and lifestyle event on the calendar, Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.
It was announced Monday that the Solevos will host a special pop-up inside Gulfstream’s Ten Palms Restaurant for horsemen tied to the Pegasus World Cup. We wanted to get to know the family and how they’ve built an expanding brand with gravitational pull from all corners of the sport of racing. What we found out is that the Solevos’ journey in racing and in fine dining dates back several generations.
First off, for our readers just learning about Solevo Kitchen + Social, tell us a little bit about your roles at the restaurant.
We are a new generation mom-n-pop shop. Chef Ronnie oversees a kitchen where everything is scratch made. Joe and Gi run the front of house and bar, all supported by a staff who has been with the team since day one. We are as hands-on as you can be, and we can all fill in for each other in every part of the business. Our different styles complement each other well: Gi has the business mind, Joe is the personality and Ronnie is the creative. Mom and Dad taught us everything we know, and are often found here shaking up martinis or rolling hundreds of meatballs to help us out.
Now, even though the racing world might not have known about you prior to 2018, isn’t it true that racing has been very much a part of your lives since a very early age?
Yes, for generations our Italian-American family made their annual pilgrimages to the track. It was the sport that we grew up with, idolizing icons like Nick Zito and Jerry Bailey. Our time visiting Saratoga was not only centered around the racing but also the culture surrounding it, the food, the city… it was what we knew as “family fun.” Some of our fondest childhood memories are chasing Johnny Velazquez for a program autograph or trying to out-handicap our father, even though we weren’t tall enough to see into the betting window.
We just found out that you’re making the trip down to the Pegasus World Cup. That’s exciting news. How did this come about?
Saratoga is an incredible city for so many reasons, but it truly was our history with and love of racing that led to us putting down roots here. Because of this, we did everything we could to create an incredible experience for the horsemen and fans of Saratoga Race Track. Something ultimately clicked with how they received our food and hospitality. It is surreal, but at one point this community became just as big of fans of us as we are of them. The impression we made has opened up these doors, and when (genius!) 1/ST Racing’s Peter Rotondo suggested that we bring Solevo to Florida we were very honored. We are thrilled to see our old friends and make many new ones – and give a taste of the Saratoga summer meet to all!
Is it possible that this is a test activation for more pop-ups like this in the future or potentially expanding into other racing markets?
Right now, all of our energy is focused on making Solevo Horsemen’s Lounge the most special food and hospitality feature in racing. The team behind the Pegasus World Cup and Gulfstream Park have supported us to ensure that we can make this happen. If our event leads to more partnerships, we would be thrilled.
Italian food can be a tricky sell in the era of carb-cutting, gluten-aversion and for generally just evoking thoughts of a very heavy meal. How have you been able to craft a menu and market it to a younger audience, specifically, and have the success you’ve had?
Regardless of fads and changes, we find that everyone is ultimately looking for a connection to the food and experience they are having while dining out. Our recipes are generations old, and our experience in larger markets keeping up with contemporary trends have influenced our menu and style. There is something timeless about red sauce and pasta and we believe we craft the best versions of these classic dishes. Younger and older generations alike can taste our food and experience something new but ascendiente at the same time. It is at that intersection where we find our success.
Since we know that you’re no strangers to racing, let’s get into some rapid-fire questions about the sport. First, who’s your favorite all-time horse and why?
Funny Cide. He’s the only New York bred to win the Derby. We remember being at the Belmont when he came up just short of the Triple Crown. He was The People’s Horse.
What’s your best memory from being at the races as kids?
Tom Durkin’s “and they’re off” call at the start of so many races. There was also mom and dad sneaking us into Siro’s to dance to the band, picnics by the paddock, and tricking our friends into drinking from The Big Red Spring.
What’s your favorite bet type when you’re playing the races?
Depends on the entries but, because there are five Solevos, we love a late race family Pick 5.
What’s the most money you’ve ever won at the track?
Who’s asking, the IRS? Ha! Let’s say, selling pasta just to break even.
Who’s going to win the Pegasus World Cup?
We have the chance to trade Upstate NY negative two degree weather for sunny South Florida with our friends and family for a week and serve our food to our favorite people, so naturally… Life is Good.
Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
We can’t wait to see all of your readers in Saratoga this summer!
For more information and to take a look at the restaurant’s menu, click here.
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