Open image in lightbox
The Sorrento’s Italian Restaurant family: (l to r) Susan Mattera, Vince Mattera, Jr., Angie Mattera, Mariea Mattera, and Renee Camello. (photo: John Mattera Photography)

“It was time,” says Vince Mattera, Jr. over coffee last month. 

Sitting with his mom and sister in Starbucks on Westmont, Mattera, 58, and his family are still coming to terms with the fact that Sorrento’s Italian Restaurant, the family business started by patriarch Vince Mattera, Sr. 60 years ago this year, will soon be out of their hands, as they close the sale of the restaurant to a longtime employee.

While retiring from the restaurant is exciting for Vince, letting go is still hard to do. After all, he’d been rolling meatballs in the kitchen with his sisters, Susan and Renee, since he was five. 

The Sorrento’s Italian Restaurant family: (l to r) Susan Mattera, Vince Mattera, Jr., Angie Mattera, Mariea Mattera, and Renee Camello. (photo: John Mattera Photography)

“It’s bittersweet,” says Angie Mattera, the family matriarch. At 82, until recently, she handled the financial books for the restaurant. Now, she finds herself training a new person for the first time to take over a job she’s been doing for nearly six decades.

“Before he passed away, my husband would always say, ‘Let them do it. Let them do it,’” recalls Angie about the finances. “But I always had to have a hand on the books to see what was going on. Then he would get mad at me. So now I’m going to be completely free,” she laughs. 

Founded in 1962 as Sorrento’s Pizza House, serving pizza, pasta, and sandwiches, the Mattera family’s recipes quickly caught on in San Pedro. They soon grew into a more prominent eatery on 25th and Western, adding traditional Italian dishes and changing the name to Sorrento’s Italian Restaurant. 

Mattera, Sr. retired from the restaurant in 2007, but even after he handed the reins over to his family, he was still a fixture. When he passed away in 2011, the loss hit the family and the entire San Pedro community that had grown to know and love him.

Sorrento’s has become a San Pedro family staple for many generations because of their large portions, fresh pizzas, and torpedo sandwiches. 

“Nothing’s going to change,” says Susan Mattera, 59, Vince’s sister. 

That promise of consistency is one of the reasons why the family felt comfortable passing the keys to Pedro Benitez, the new owner who’s worked at the restaurant for more than 20 years. According to Vince, the lead-up to selling to Benitez started more than a decade ago.

“It is crucial to my family and me that my father’s original recipes and approach to excellent customer service remain unchanged,” says Vince. “It’s for this reason that more than ten years ago, my family and I began working in earnest with Pedro and his family to learn the ways of Sorrento’s food preparation and methods for good community business.”  

“He’s like family to us,” adds Susan. 

 The family set the wheels in motion to sell the restaurant two years ago. While financial details were not disclosed, according to the Matteras, the transfer has been incredibly smooth.

“Pedro has been my right hand and partner for years,” explains Vince. “He has been the one to open the restaurant at 4 a.m. and begin preparations for the day’s fresh meals. He has learned how to procure the best ingredients. His attention to detail of each order from our customers and friends is beyond compare.”

As they leave the restaurant business, the Matteras are excited to spend more family time together. Vince is expecting his sixth grandchild soon, and Susan is excited that she was able to get the entire Mattera extended family on an upcoming cruise.

“Because of the restaurant responsibilities, we were never able to plan family vacations together, so I finally booked a cruise, and mom’s coming,” laughs Susan.

As for Sorrento’s future, Vince believes it’s in good hands with Benitez.

“I am proud and honored that Pedro will carry the legacy and service of Sorrento’s for the next generation,” he says. spt

Sorrento’s Italian Restaurant is located at 2428 S. Western Ave. For more info, call (310) 832-2820.

Joshua Stecker

Joshua Stecker is the publisher and editor-in-chief of San Pedro Today.