A lot can change in a year. In August 2023 Sobremesa, a local wine bar turned neighborhood eatery, passed its one-year mark. For co-founder Ryan Ribeiro, the first year saw a major change—signing on a new partner, Jason Restivo.
Restivo, who owned Atlantic with his wife Jennifer from 2016 to 2020, bought out Ribeiro’s original partner, Guinn McMillion, who has moved on to pursue other career objectives. Restivo calls the partnership “a new marriage,” with the duo bringing new ideas and plans for Sobremesa in 2024.
On August 1, right before the Restivos joined, Ribeiro landed his liquor license and rolled out Sobremesa’s first specialty cocktail menu that same weekend at its one-year anniversary party.
“Packed from four to close,” he recalled. “It was an awesome night.” With Restivo now at Sobremesa, Ribeiro is even more elated. “The whole story for us is ‘Previous owner of Atlantic takes co-ownership of Sobremesa. Elevates the food, elevates the wine list, and takes Sobremesa to new levels.’ That’s the projection,” Ribeiro said.
Not everything will change at Sobremesa; instead, the footprint is going to grow a few sizes, and since Restivo came on board, they have “been able to create a new atmosphere” without ever shutting down.
“It’s almost like a toddler learning how to walk,” said Restivo, the standout sommelier and restaurateur. “We know exactly where we want to go, and we are very close to hitting a stride that is very important for the business.”
“Sobremesa is now an eatery with an elevated wine list,” Ribeiro added. “It’s Sobremesa on steroids.”
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“Guinn and I both saw opportunities that we could not pass up,” Restivo said of the ownership change. “Hers were elsewhere, and mine were at 2312 Abercorn.”
When he looked at Sobremesa’s year one numbers, he saw the opportunity to help Ribeiro develop what already is a popular wine lounge into a ‘neighborhood eatery’, fittingly the former Atlantic’s familiar epithet.
Restivo and Ribeiro closed the deal on August 31, and Restivo’s first day was less than a week later. On purpose, the new partners did not shout this news from the hilltops, even though many Sobremesa regulars might have seen Restivo onsite and wondered if he had a doppelganger.
“Sobremesa is an opportunity to continue doing what I love doing, which is serving the community that we actually reside in,” Restivo explained. “What Atlantic was created for wasn’t done yet.”
“Jason is going to bring on the small bites of interest, kind of like Atlantic had,” Ribeiro echoed, while Sobremesa stays true to the “great cheese and wine program,” which the partners promise will only get better.
An early menu featured roasted beet carpaccio, a play on its beef brother, with dijon garlic aioli, arugula, pistachio, and fried capers ($14) and pan con tomate, toast points topped with tomato pulp and buffalo mozzarella ($12).
Heartier fare has included shrimp toast served on milk bread ($18), a pork liver pâté banh mi ($16), and smoked salmon spread ($16).
“The things that I was looking to put into play were approachable, recognizable, affordable, but also make you realize you were thirsty,” Restivo said with a smile.
Executing the new dishes is Chef Zachary Joachim, who moved to Savannah from Providence, RI. He is “excited to learn about the local farms and make relationships with the farmers,” said Jenn Restivo.
Joachim’s hiring has allowed Restivo to step out of the kitchen and “be with the guests.”
“We knew the excitement of what Sobremesa is going to become is if I’m out on the floor engaging and doing everything I love doing,” he paused for self-deprecating effect and a smirk, “which is talking too much.”
Restivo and Ribeiro had no designs on making Sobremesa a meet-and-greet or a three-course traditional Americana restaurant. With liquor and more expanded plates, their goal is to offer something for everyone in “an eatery that can take care of and serve the neighborhood.”
IF YOU REBUILD IT…
On his first day at Sobremesa, Restivo was equal parts excited and nervous to be there. He had his French press, but was immediately confused: there was no way to boil water.
By design, the first iteration of this wine lounge housed only a cold kitchen. Early on, Restivo saw busyness early in the evening with guests who then left for the dinner reservations elsewhere or those who came back for dessert.
“We were either the pregame or the postgame,” he said. “We want to be the game.”
“That’s when I knew this was about creating something that will work, an atmosphere of production,” he added. Therein lay the biggest change Restivo’s involvement has already produced.
“If we’re going to see forty or eighty people a night, how do we set up an atmosphere that can generate that?” he posited in retrospect.
No major renovations were required, though windows were busted out, exhaust fans were installed, and more storage was added. All told, the kitchen has had five different layouts since Restivo walked in.
“We have lots of dreams. We have lots of ideas. We have a lot of things we would like to do, but for that to make sense, we just had to make sure that the engine underneath the hood was going to be able to take high rpms,” said Restivo.
“It took us seventy days to understand a flow,” he added.
The kitchen they have created is fashioned to put out as many small to mid plates as possible, meats and cheeses plus seven to nine “bites” with each menu.
Part and parcel is an elevated cheese program, Restivo’s personal and professional research topic of late. Hearkening to European traditions, he envisions Sobremesa offering curated tableside cart service that features a cheese-of-the-week.
“For me, it’s searching for the best wine that showcases the uniqueness and richness of putting two dynamic flavors on your palate.”
MEANWHILE, A FEW BLOCKS NORTH…
Atlantic closed “when the nation closed in March of 2020,” Jason Restivo recalled, “but we made the announcement July 3 that we were not reopening.”
Savannah was still home, during which time Jason Restivo sold wine and “opened up a territory” for a Rive Gauche Wine Co., a small Georgia-focused distribution company, before a year’s stint as sommelier-assistant manager at Marshwood Clubhouse (The Landings).
He enjoyed both opportunities, though he admitted, “I missed seeing the people of Starland. I missed seeing the people of Ardsley Park. I missed seeing Baldwin Park. I missed seeing downtown. I just missed seeing the people we are friends with.”
While Restivo was at Marshwood, he and Ribeiro would often see each other after the latter finished a round of golf, and they shared their respective career challenges. Having “fulfilled” his commitment at The Landings, Restivo acknowledged that he “was still kind of mourning the shutting-down of Atlantic.” He spent three years not knowing what he wanted to do next and not being where he should be in terms of “providing for his family.”
Seven days after his last day at Marshwood, he and Ribeiro “decided to push this thing forward.”
A LITTLE R&R
“The friendship started even before that,” Ribeiro said, who remembered meeting Restivo at Garibaldi years ago when the latter was its sommelier.
When Atlantic opened, the pair reconnected and often.
“He was our best customer,” Jenn Restivo teased, recalling Ribeiro’s patronage.
“At that time, I’d bring customers in to Atlantic,” Ribeiro said of his time working at Gulfstream, “and I’d come in personally three times a week. I loved the atmosphere.”
Having just returned from living in Europe, he fell in love with what the Restivos had created, saying, “It reminded me of Europe. It had that European social vibe. The energy was high.”
“He almost drank his way through our entire wine program,” Jason Restivo joked.
Consider it four years’ worth of R&D for Sobremesa, which Ribeiro and McMillion opened in 2022.
“Ever since I got back from Europe, the whole plan was to open something that doesn’t exist here,” he said of the plan to corner a market whose glass then filled with other wine bars almost concurrently.
Ribeiro knows that when word gets out, everyone will want to see Jason Restivo in his new place.
“We both understand the excitement of what got us here will get us to the next level,” Restivo added.
Clearly, what the Restivos are bringing to Sobremesa goes back to the ethos they founded and fostered at Atlantic, transforming a chic wine lounge into a unique restaurant with a fully curated wine program, specialty cocktails, charcuterie and cheeses, and filling fare.
Jason Restivo pledged to “protect the integrity, the longevity of” Sobremesa and to make sure it is “a lot of fun at the same time.”
“They were already doing so well being drinks-focused,” he said. “Now Sobremesa is in that top five of the options that you think of for food.”
“I would have never thought I’d have another chance,” Restivo shared, reflecting on this new opportunity. “For me to be able to walk freely in Sobremesa gives me the confidence to dream so big. I do feel that I’m in the beginning of my resurgence.”
“Every day I wake up, I’m excited to be able to do what I was created to do.”
Sobremesa (22312 Abercorn Street) is open Tuesday through Thursday (4 p.m. to 10 p.m.) and Friday and Saturday (4 p.m. to 11 p.m.).