Waleed Joseph Soro brings a lifetime of experiences with him to Old Town Temecula. He joined his dad in the restaurant business in Baghdad, Iraq when he was thirteen years old. “Papa” is Syrian and speaks Aramaic (“the language Jesus spoke”) Arabic, some Spanish, French and Italian (“restaurant language”) as well as English. The first thing you’ll notice about Papa is his infectious laugh. “There is not one person that comes here I don’t shake their hand.” There are hugs and kisses for the women.
Papa has a story to tell, several of them in fact, and one day he will write a book. The story begins with his parents running from the mountains during wartime. It follows their move from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon. Papa applied to come to the United States in the 1970s when war erupted in Lebanon. He took sanctuary in Greece for eight and a half months enjoying “nothing but good times, but I couldn’t wait to come here. When I got here I kissed the ground, I swear you.” From New York he moved to Michigan where he became a state champion in ballroom dancing. One night a woman came into the club where he was dancing. He asked his waiter friend “Who’s that beautiful blonde over there? She looks like Marilyn Monroe. Take her a bottle of champagne and tell her it’s from me.” The attraction was mutual and instant and he and Sherry have been together ever since.
They moved to Los Angeles where he got into the restaurant business, first as a busboy, then as a waiter. Papa attended bartending school so he could learn to pronounce the names of drinks. From LA they moved to Sacramento where he worked with his first Certified Master Chef at the Del Paso Country Club. His work took him to Galactica 2000 lounge, to Zorba’s restaurant and the five star Cafe Capri in Fair Oaks, where the specialty of the house was table-side cooking flambé. Papa prepared his take on Oysters Rockefeller when we had dinner there and they arrived at the table in flames. Once his restaurant is fully staffed with “PHD”s, a title bestowed by Papa, table-side cooking will become a signature of Soro’s.
Sherry began to get homesick. Her parents were getting older and they wanted to see their grandson, Dylan. The family moved back to Detroit and Papa opened a Mediterranean restaurant with a wholesale shop in the back selling pita chips and eight different flavored hummus. He also spent time at the famed Golden Mushroom where he worked with the first Certified Master Chef in the U.S., Milos Cihelka. After Dylan graduated from high school, he went to San Diego to visit his aunt and cousins. Two days later he called his dad and told him he wasn’t coming home. A month later he told his dad he needed his car. Papa drove from Detroit to San Diego and when he arrived there he called Sherry and said “I’m not coming back either.” He did return to Michigan to sell his home and his business. Three months later, he went to work at Jonathan’s Market in La Jolla as deli manager and chef. He decided to go back into the wholesale business with son Dylan and together they rented a kitchen in a Mexican restaurant in Carlsbad and began making pita chips. They started selling the chips, first to Jonathan’s and as business increased they had to find a new facility. He soon began selling his chips and hummus to Costco and introduced the concept of “road shows” there, giving customers samples of his products. Eventually others took his place at Costco, but Papa and Dylan remained in the wholesale business until last year when they opened the doors to Soro’s on the 4th of July.
The move to Temecula began when he was having a conversation with his General Manager in San Diego. “I’m looking for an old Old Town” said Papa. “I miss that old style of living.” His partner asked him if he had been to Old Town Temecula. Ten minutes later he headed North and saw a “Restaurant For Lease” banner when he entered Old Town. “It can’t be this” he thought. “Impossible.” He visited with the landlord on a Thursday and signed a lease that Saturday. One month later, Papa opened the doors to Soro’s. Papa’s dream is have Soro’s gain fame world wide. He brings 38 years of experience in the restaurant business and says “I’m committed. My dream is to buy this whole building… the whole thing.” He wants to bring in a designer and fashion it in the style of Zorro, with horses and statues. “I’m going to blow it up and offer something that even Beverly Hills doesn’t have.” His staff will be totally knowledgeable in all aspects of the business. Rather than asking you if you enjoyed your meal, you’re more likely to hear Papa say he hopes he didn’t disappoint you. He has enlisted the help of Kim Baily to design a wine list that offers local wines “I want to support my neighbors” to Chateau Lafite and St. Emilion. He wants an apartment with one bed above the restaurant because he spends all day every day there. “Why do I need to go to France? I’ve got the mountains, I’ve got the people, I’ve got my wine.” He says if he closes his eyes he believes he’s in France. When he opens them he feels as if he’s in Italy. Come meet Papa and his family and discover the charm of Soro’s. Not only will you enjoy a great meal, you’ll make new friends.
Soro’s Mediterranean Grill is at 28464 Front Street in Old Town Temecula. (951) 587-8082.