Goodbye Sorrento: Bulgarian business owner closes long-standing Corner Brook restaurant

Lillyana Zahanov is ready to retire and will hand the keys over to new owners this Saturday. She ran restaurants in Corner Brook for 28 years.  (Colleen Connors - image credit)
Lillyana Zahanov is ready to retire and will hand the keys over to new owners this Saturday. She ran restaurants in Corner Brook for 28 years. (Colleen Connors - image credit)

After more than 20 years in the restaurant business, Lillyana Zahanov is ready to retire and close her popular European eatery, a staple of the Corner Brook dining scene.

Lillyana, who goes by Lilly, and her husband Stoyan, also known as Stoby, opened the restaurant in 2001, serving gourmet pizza, salad and pasta. They needed the extra space following their success with a pizza pop-up shop on Broadway.

"It is bittersweet. It was a great experience. It seems like all our customers became our closest friends, all employees previous and current, our family," Lilly said.

The couple, along with their son Steve, fled Bulgaria in the early 1990s, claiming refugee status at the Gander airport when their plane stopped for fuel on its way to Havana, Cuba.

Lillyana Zahanov
Lillyana Zahanov

Here in Newfoundland, they "started our lives all over from the beginning," she recalled.

Pasta was not always the plan for the Zahanovs. Stoby was an engineer, designing forklifts, trucks and cars; Lilly a photographer. But that all changed when they opened their first restaurant in St. John's, called Sofia's Cafe, in the Captain's Quarters Hotel.

"We used to entertain a lot. Our house was always full with people and cooking. That's how the idea came about, the restaurant," she said.

"People really liked European food, Bulgarian food. And that gave us the idea to move on to the west coast."

Colleen Connors/CBC
Colleen Connors/CBC

The Zahanovs got word that Corner Brook experienced all four seasons, like Bulgaria. So in 1995 they moved across the province and opened Dino's Pizza on Broadway, and lived in the apartment upstairs.

In 2001, they opened a much larger space with a bar and dining area called Sorrento.

"Stoby really liked that song Come Back to Sorrento, and it sort of suggested that it's pizza, pasta," she said.

It was one of the most popular places on the west coast, with many people in Corner Brook dining there often. Some had their favourite dishes, like Debbie Pike, who always ordered the chicken tetrazinni.

"Just the taste. It's just a delicious meal," said Debbie Pike.

Zahanov served her every time she would eat there. Pike was shocked to learn it was closing.

"I think it is a staple. A good place to sit back and relax and have a good meal," she said.

But after a flourishing career, it's time for Lilly to say goodbye. Stoby died 10 years ago, and now it's time for her to retire.

She hopes to get back into photography, and spend more time with friends and family.

Zahanov and her son Steve are hosting a large retirement party at Sorrento Saturday afternoon before handing the keys over to the new owners of the building.

Colleen Connors/CBC
Colleen Connors/CBC

Park West to open late summer

Prominent local chef Adam Bishop has plans to renovate the space and add a patio garden.

"The menu will be market bistro. We are going to do a little bit of everything. We have 100 per cent freedom to chose cuisines, from Thai food, American, Chinese, French — little bit of everything," said Bishop.

By later this summer, guests will fill the seats at the building, without the chicken tetrazinni, pesto pizza or shop salad.

It will start a new life as Park West.

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