By Lynne Bronstein
Go south along Sepulveda Boulevard in Culver City and eventually, where the street turns southwest, you will pass Sorrento Market. The Italian-style deli and market has just marked its 50th anniversary as a Culver City institution.
Users on web pages such as Yelp and Plus.Google give Sorrento rave reviews. A typical comment (from Jasmine Cameron on Google) "One of the best sandwiches in Culver City and the price ($5.00) is even better!"
Katherine Vera is the sister of former Culver City Mayor Albert Vera Sr., who, with Katherine's husband Santino Barriciello, founded Sorrento in November 1963. Katherine Vera spoke to the Observer about her memories of the store's origins.
"We came from Italy, my mother, my brother, and I," says Katherine Vera. Her mother had in fact, been born in the United States, later returned to Italy, and moved back to the U.S. Albert Vera drove a truck, a "portable deli" that delivered food from San Diego to San Jose.
Katherine married Santino, who worked for Columbia Pictures as a prop man.
By 1963, when Katherine had her third child, her husband and Albert decided to open an Italian grocery and deli. They kept their day jobs-Albert still drove his truck and Santino worked at the studio-but they managed to get Sorrento up and running and worked there when not busy with their day jobs.
"I used to work in the store," says Katherine Vera. "It was a family thing."
Albert Vera also purchased his first ranch, up in the Central Valley, growing olives for his market. He eventually owned a series of ranches and drove up north regularly to care for his produce. He grew between 1,200 and 1,500 tons of olives annually, using them for bottling and for making into olive oil, and sold them under the Vera Ranches label.
As the years went by, Katherine had back problems which limited her ability to work. Ursula Vera, Albert's wife, began to work at Sorrento and became a fixture at the store. While Santino continued to work in movies, Albert gave up his trucking and also began to work full-time at Sorrento.
"When Ursula became ill, I went back to working in the store for a bit. People would see me in the store and say 'Oh you're back?' and I would say 'Don't get used to it!'
"When I talked about going back to work [full-time] in the store my husband would say 'Go to a doctor. You need to go to a psychiatrist!'" jokes Katherine.
Albert Vera Sr., as is well known, became a member of the Culver City Council for 12 years and served as Mayor three times. He contributed to charities and often contributed free food for both private and city-sponsored events. He passed away in 2010, followed a year later by Ursula.
Since Albert Sr.'s death his son Albert Jr. has been running Sorrento Market. "I think he's been doing a beautiful job-I'm very very proud of my nephew," says Katherine.
Sorrento used to stay open seven days a week but it is now closed on Tuesdays because, says Katherine, Albert Jr. continues his father's work at the ranches and goes north to work on the production of freshly grown produce for the store.
In fact, Albert Jr. is kept very busy at Sorrento and that may be why there is no big event being held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the market. To celebrate Sorrento's 50 years of supplying Culver City with yummy Italian deli meats, cheeses, sandwiches, and baklava, the appropriate thing would simply be to go down there and buy-and eat-and enjoy.