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Suncoast Post Interview with Serge Khazen, Owner of Piccolo Italian Market and Deli in Sarasota, Florida

| Sande Caplin |

Growing up in New York you get spoiled when it comes to great food.  Fabulous Chinese food, the best pizza, awesome bagels, and some of the best Italian Deli’s in the world!  Right here on the Florida Suncoast in Sarasota, Florida we have a fabulous Italian Deli and Market, Piccolo!  I have been a fan of Piccolo for years.  They have the best Italian sandwiches, great pizza, and wonderful hot dishes.  Piccolo is a gem in our town.  I had the opportunity to interview the new owner, Serge Khazen!  He had some very interesting comments.  Enjoy the interview!

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved in the food industry?

I have a diverse background from mechanical engineering to automotive, but I’ve been in the food and beverage industry for over 10 years.

What inspired you to become the owner of Piccolo Italian Market and Deli?

I moved to Florida in October 2021. I was looking to get back into the food industry and fell in love with the deli when I found it. 

Could you share some information about the history of Piccolo Deli and its significance within the community?

Piccolo started in a small shop on Tamiami trail as a family-owned business in 2005, grew to another location a few years later, and again to its current location in Gulf Gate. And soon we will either expand or open another branch to accommodate our customers. 


What changes or improvements have you implemented since taking over as the owner?

We kept all the same recipes from the original owner, Antonio DiRende, and his wife Josephine. He still comes for lunch around once a week. We also kept the same prices, just made some improvements on the branding and social media accounts to gain more visibility, online ordering, as well as the catering menu that is a big part of our business. We also extended our business hours and started opening 6 days a week instead of 5. 

How has your previous experience or expertise influenced your approach to running the deli?

I’ve always had my own business and I have a passion for food, I just love what I do… as far as I’m concerned, all you need in terms of a recipe for success is a good product and happy customers. 

Can you describe the unique aspects or specialties of Piccolo Deli that set it apart from other Italian delis in the area?

We carry items that nobody else has locally, such as special cuts of pasta, guanciale, aged meats and cheeses, but most importantly people love our homemade sausage with fennel, Marinara sauce, and meatballs. 

How do you maintain the quality and authenticity of the Italian cuisine and products offered at the deli?

We use the highest quality products available and keep everything fresh.

Has being the owner of Piccolo Deli impacted your personal life or family in any way?

When you run a deli and a catering business you don’t have time for anything else, but we try to squeeze quality time with the family on Sundays, the only day off. 

What are some of the challenges you faced when transitioning into the role of the owner?

Finding good help… that’s proven to be the biggest challenge these days, for everyone, it seems. Everything else is smooth sailing. 

How do you balance maintaining the deli’s longstanding traditions while introducing new ideas and innovations?

We  try to improve our online visibility to make it easier for people to order online and we do offer free delivery for catering orders. We want to maintain both the popular variety and the quality that Piccolo has long been known for. 

Can you share any memorable or heartwarming stories about customers and their experiences at Piccolo Deli?

When I see the customers smiling on their way in and saying how delicious the food is on their way out, that’s my biggest motivation. We have loyal customers who’ve been coming to the deli for 18 years! 

In your opinion, what role does Piccolo Deli play in fostering a sense of community in Sarasota, Florida?

We have a majority of locals and a lot of snowbirds that come in and tell me we’re their first stop in Sarasota, that our food evokes fond childhood memories for the Italian community. 

How do you select the ingredients and products that you offer at the deli? What is your philosophy regarding sourcing and quality?

I select the best ingredients available. I like to maintain a high standard, regardless of prices. 

Are there any future plans or expansions in the works for Piccolo Deli?

We are constantly expanding our catering business and would love to open a new location in the near future. 

What advice would you give to someone who is considering entering the restaurant or deli business?

Think carefully before you dive into it… make sure you can secure the work force you need and anticipate that you’ll need to ride out rough patches when good help is hard to find. And always make sure you do what you can to make your customers happy… listen to their feedback and do what you can to maintain the high standards they deserve and have come to expect.

Thanks, Serge, for doing this interview and congratulations on a great job!  I will see you soon to enjoy one of your great Italian specialties.

For more information visit the Piccolo website.

Photos from Piccolo market.

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