Sorelle celebrates the best of two worlds


A stunning curved bar of meticulously crafted Arabescato Corchia marble and Apparatus pendants overhead set the scene in Sorelle’s lively social hub.

In the city that hosts a world-class arts festival like Spoleto Festival USA, it makes sense that a dining destination such as Sorelle would find a home. Charleston’s old-world charm won the heart of Gian Carlo Menotti, founder of the original Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy, clinching his search for an American counterpart. Historic architecture, lush walled gardens, plus a wealth of theaters, churches and other performing spaces offered a setting similar to that of its Italian sister city. The same qualities captured the imagination of the eatery’s founders. Now, with Sorelle, Charleston offers a unique gathering place inspired by Italy’s all-day cafés, abundant markets and rich culinary traditions—an Italian classic with a contemporary Southern spin.

Sorelle is a collaboration between Beemok Hospitality Collection (BHC), founded by businessman Ben Navarro, and the acclaimed MINA Group, led by James Beard Award-winning Chef Michael Mina. Charleston-based BHC boasts a growing portfolio of hospitality and entertainment experiences that include The Charleston Place, Charleston Grill, The Riviera Theater and Credit One Stadium. MINA Group operates over two dozen dining establishments nationwide. The joint venture parlayed each entity’s individual expertise into an ambitious project that transformed three 18th-century properties into a thriving, one-of-a-kind dining destination and the Holy City itself.

A sense of excitement pervades the glamorous, multilevel property: Ladies & Gentlemen pendants cascade through the foyer above while high-impact geometric tile provides a surprise for the eye below.

Sorelle’s address, 88–90 Broad St., anchors Court House Square and is a stone’s throw from the intersection of Broad and Meeting streets, over which Charleston’s iconic Four Corners of Law—Federal Courthouse, St. Michael’s Church, City Hall and County Courthouse—presides. Steeped in history, this footprint was the center of life in the old city—protected by a moat and fortified by a wall. The building itself is neoclassical in design and went through a variety of iterations over the past couple hundred years, including residences, banks, a drugstore and tavern. In the late 1800s to early 1900s, the property was the site of a Hebrew school run by two sisters, which inspired the name Sorelle, “sisters” in Italian.

A custom hand-painted mural by MJ Atelier creates magic in the main dining room. Custom furniture by Brooklyn-based designer Mark Jupiter throughout.

What does it look like at the intersection of philanthropy and hospitality? That’s part of the conversation that drove the process Navarro engaged in with BHC president Casey Lavin, who became Navarro’s first hire after the company’s founding in 2021.

“I thought the world of Ben’s values—he’s a family man, a philanthropist, an amazing businessman. And the Navarro family is Italian, with really comforting traditions that foster moments when everyone can come together. He’s been dreaming about creating a classic Italian restaurant for 30 years,” says Lavin, whose passion for hospitality stems from holidays spent at his grandmother’s elbow, learning to re-create family traditions like eggs Benedict. Hooked, he became a prep cook at age 14; a decade later, he joined the team that opened The Sanctuary on Kiawah Island.

“We talked over the years about giving back to the community—how can we enrich lives, provide a healing antidote to a busy world that craves meaningful connection?” Lavin says. “What if we started a hospitality company with four distinct paths—hotels, restaurants, entertainment, wellness—and do so with this purpose-driven mindset to enable people to come together, to celebrate in a meaningful way, and at the same time build a team that’s very involved and cared for.”

Chef’s mise en place for the Zeppole from the Caviale menu: The components of the traditional French caviar service are presented in a sweet and savory Italian pastry and wrapped in prosciutto di San Daniele.

To ensure that lives are truly enriched, a lot more intentionality can be expected of BHC. As the company grows, the team plans to dovetail complementary venues to provide a seamless experience for both guests and the local community.

“One of the things that makes us unique is that we offer an urban resort,” says Lavin. “The guest can come to stay at one of our properties and get access to The Charleston Place spa, priority access to shows at The Riviera, a complimentary shuttle to Sorelle, or we’ll ferry you over to Credit One Stadium. When you’re a guest at The Charleston Place, you’re a guest at all our properties. We can make it easy for people to get around—they don’t have to rely on their own transportation.”

Branzino ‘Cacciatore’—A showstopping presentation of the entire fish, classically prepared and finished with a splash of Bona Furtuna olive oil from a Sorelle partner’s farm in Corleone, Italy.

Currently, guests can get a lift to wherever they wish to go within the area. In the works for the future, Lavin says BHC is planning a shuttle to some of Charleston’s other restaurants and venues to provide more options in a hospitality-centric city.

Lavin and the BHC group work closely with the MINA Group culinary team led by Sorelle chef/partner Adam Sobel and executive chef Nick Dugan. Sobel’s partnership with MINA began when he was tapped to serve as executive chef at Bourbon Steak in Washington, D.C. Earlier credentials include helping with the development and opening of the James Beard Award-winning restaurant Bradley Ogden at Caesars Palace.

The Agnello e Peperonata, marinated Border Springs lamb chops, are grilled over hickory wood and glazed in a red wine agrodolce, bringing sweetness, acidity and salt, then bathed in a traditional stew of bell peppers stuffed with house-made merguez sausage.

A Culinary Institute of America (CIA) graduate, Dugan was tapped while there to lead the institution’s first American Culinary Federation competition team. “It was an opportunity to be completely immersed in the craft,” says Dugan. “We were a team of five, led by a certified Master Chef. The training gives you the discipline and focus to perform in a highly intense atmosphere—we toured all over the country to compete.”

After graduating, Dugan had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., to train under Mina and Sobel at Bourbon Steak. Before joining the Sorelle team, he rose through the ranks, helming kitchens such as the iconic MICHAEL MINA restaurant in the Bellagio and Bardot Brasserie in Aria, both in Las Vegas.

Rice pudding meets an Italian classic, the Tiramisu di Riso is Chef Dugan’s Southern take on tiramisu—the best of two beloved desserts.

Dugan reflects on the time in 2020 when he met Navarro for the first time, saying: “Ben was in Las Vegas and approached Michael and me. He wanted us to cook for him and his Credit One guests. This one little interaction created an opportunity for me I’m so excited to be a part of.”

Every step of the way, intentionality played a key role in the assembly of the Sorelle build-out team. When choosing a firm to lead the design initiative, BHC found that New York-based Meyer Davis shared the company’s standards and sensibilities. Founded by Will Meyer and Gray Davis, the design boutique is a winner of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant Design and has an international reputation for its innovative approach to restaurant, hotel, residential and workplace experiences.

“Beemok reached out to us, and when I heard the plans for Sorelle, it sounded like a very special project,” says Meyer. “A week later I was in Charleston looking at the property. The building, the architecture is spectacular—huge windows flooding the space with light. The location is amazing. Projects like this don’t come along very often.”

Limone—this dreamy confection showcases a vanilla-citrus cream, sweet white chocolate and the umami of a Sorrento lemon conserva all in one bite.

“When we were in the raw, gutted space, it felt so special,” notes lead designer Lizelle Foose.

“We let the building speak to us,” adds Meyer. “We were so excited and proud to be working in Charleston. There’s such a high bar for food and beverage—we wanted to make this a place you have to go to when you visit the city.”

Trademark Meyer Davis tenets—sophistication and preservation—produced compelling interiors, contrasting historic elements with modern and Italian with Charleston. The drama starts in the entryway, where guests are greeted with soaring ceilings strung with Ladies & Gentlemen blown glass pendants. Underfoot, stunning geometric Arabescato Corchia and signature deep green-colored marble tile surround a custom brass inlay of Sorelle’s logo. Meyer says that strong statement informs the point of view throughout the property. A sense of excitement pervades the multilevel property, with a surprise for the eye at every turn.

The rich flavor profile of the prized mozzarella produced from Italian water buffalo milk is showcased beautifully atop al dente asparagus and semolina croutons, with a finish of herbaceous green garlic dragoncello and sweet balsamico.

“It’s a community of spaces, each with its own strong personality,” says Meyer. “The rooms are having a conversation with each other.”

The first floor offers a charming mercato stocked with specialty products for the home kitchen as well as light fare for a casual meal either seated or on the go. Craft cocktails pair with a convivial vibe at Sorelle’s social hub—a stunning, U-shaped bar covered with Arabescato Corchia marble. An adjacent wine room for small, intimate parties features cabinets displaying a rare collection of Italian spirits and regional wines. One flight up, an exhibition counter and wood-fired oven offers seating and a show for folks dining on artisanal pizza.

The sun-drenched main dining room exudes European elegance with hand-painted wall murals by MJ Atelier, original moldings and trim beautifully restored, jewel-toned mohair velvet chairs and camel channel-tufted leather banquettes, and two working fireplaces.

From Sorelle’s centerpiece bar to its numerous exhibition kitchens, Italian marble finished with a special sealer reigns throughout the restaurant. Palmetto Surfacing imported, crafted and installed multiple varieties for the project.

Famous for its purity, durability and beauty, Italian marble was the stone of choice for surfaces throughout Sorelle—from the bar to the bathrooms and beyond. Tons of marble slabs from ancient Italian quarries were imported to the Lowcountry and crafted by North Charleston-based Palmetto Surfacing Incorporated. The company has a long-standing reputation for quality surfacing in the region, working often through referrals and industry partners. A highly trained staff, massive fabricating plant and key resources in the United States and abroad helped the company secure the Sorelle project.

“Sorelle was a signature job for us,” says Palmetto Surfacing president Kim Clark. “We spent two years planning and in discussion before we ordered a single stone.”

The Sorelle mercato glows with brass, glass and marble—the perfect setting for a casual morning or midday bite, with individual and community seating. Gourmet products for the home cook are also offered in the quaint market.

“Ben was on-site. The project was very owner-driven,” notes Geralyn Holley, Palmetto Surfacing commercial sales manager. “We sourced the best of the best. Ben wanted what he wanted—some of the finest materials I’ve ever seen.”

Clark points to the company’s investment in a high-tech imaging system that eliminates some of the challenges of working with a heavy, fragile product such as marble.

“Ours is the only one in the region,” notes Clark. “We take pictures of the slabs and, using Slabsmith technology, create a laser template of the area we’re going to be fabricating, then send it to the client for approval. It helps the client visualize the finished product before we import it into software and send it to a water jet that cuts the stone exactly to the approved specifications.”

Among the high-precision challenges of the Sorelle project were the large degree of stone wraparounds—the curved corners in the bar area that required radius work done in increments of stone.

The evening of our visit, my guest and I were fortunate enough to secure the guidance of Alisa Padilla—pronounced “our best server” by a manager we engaged in a friendly chat.


Ensconced in a luxurious banquette, with sky-high views of the Federal Courthouse, we started our adventure with the Zeppole from the Caviale menu section: a dollop of Petrossian Imperial Daurenki caviar set in a sweet and savory pastry and wrapped in a delightfully funky prosciutto di San Daniele.

Our next palate teaser was the Crudo di Tonno. Yellowfin tuna sourced from Crosby’s Seafood presented with Sungold tomatoes and a splash of Calabrian chili oil. Chef Dugan gives the dish a contrasting crunch with a pasta fritto—a “‘fun play” composed of repurposed pasta trimmings that are rolled through a pasta thinner and deep fried.

One of our favorites was the Zucchini Parmigiana—a cozy ramekin of nostalgia starring summer squash from GrowFood Carolina sliced paper thin, layered with a creamy fonduta and tomato sauce, and beautifully presented with a swirl of pistachio pesto. It’s Dugan’s unique take on the classic deep-fried eggplant dish.

We refreshed our palates with the Rucola e Finocchio, a salad of just a few ingredients but huge depth of flavor from King Tide Farms arugula, shaved fennel and fresh strawberries—high impact notes of pepper, sweet and licorice that we loved.

Custom wine cases in ebonized oak with restoration glass panels wrap the intimate wine room where private dinners unfold.

We also loved the Berkshire Sausage Luganega, one of Chef’s favorites too. A northern Italian dish of slender sausage blended with parsley and spicy provolone that is piped into a snail shell shape and seared on the planca, then served with a broccoli rabe giardiniera.

We sampled several pasta dishes: Fazzoletti, or handkerchief pasta, a summer season dish loaded with fresh basil that endeared with its novel shape and toothsome texture. The Radiatori recalled an Italian Sunday dinner—pasta in a hearty, meaty red sauce presented with a big serving of familial hospitality. This dish featured a braised suckling pig ragu showered with Pecorino Romano and crunchy pork cracklings.

Our entrées were from the land and the sea: Branzino—an Italian import and the kitchen’s only seafood not locally sourced—presented whole, classically prepared cacciatore style and finished with a splash of Bona Furtuna olive oil from a Sorelle partner’s farm in Corleone, Italy.

Artisan breads, cured meats and cheeses are made and sliced to order in Sorelle’s wood-fired oven room with a chic antipasti bar.

A signature dish, the perfectly cooked bone-in pork chop was imagined during the restaurant’s conceptualization, Chef says, to make an impact. Brined for 10 hours, the pork is then grilled over hickory wood and basted with sweet and sour agrodolce—a great representation of Italian flavors and, with a garnish of toasted pecans, those of the South.

Our “dolce” or sweet was the Tiramisu di Riso—the beloved Italian dessert made with ladyfingers that Dugan married to Southern culture through a novel substitution—Carolina Gold rice.

“It’s an interesting story that circles back to Mr. Navarro,” says Dugan. “We were doing one of our many dinners for him at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and had the entire menu planned, ending with a traditional tiramisu, when someone on his team told us the only request Ben has is that there’s rice pudding for dessert. We took all our prep, cooked some rice, folded some mascarpone into it and made what essentially is the dish on our menu now.”

Who doesn’t love rice pudding?

From start to finish, every detail, no matter how small, has been considered thoughtfully with the aim to deliver a world-class experience in the heart of Charleston’s historic district. It represents a coming together of so many around a shared vision. Welcome to Charleston, Sorelle.

Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer (sweetgrassandgrits.com).

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