An Albanian originally from Macedonia, Sam Kasoski “never dreamed” that he’d one day live in the United States or own a restaurant. Today, he’s got both.
Kasoski and his family live in the Village of Oregon and own Sonny’s Kitchen, which they opened last October at the corner of Jefferson Street and South Main Street.
Like a lot of immigrants to the U.S., Kasoski came for “more opportunity, a better life and more freedom,” he said.
He first arrived in the states in 1993 and stayed for three years before returning to Albania. He came back in 2001 and has lived here ever since, gradually bringing over his son, two daughters and his wife, Sofi.
Kasoski’s daughters and his son, Sonny, came in 2006 and Sam brought his wife in 2013. There’s just one more family member to bring, Sonny’s wife, which the family hopes to accomplish next year.
“That’s going to be such a great day!” Kasoski said enthusiastically.
After learning the details of owning and running a restaurant from a brother-in-law, Kasoski opened his first business in 2007, the Northside Family Restaurant in Madison. About five years later, he sold the Madison restaurant and opened the Cross Plains Family Restaurant, which Kasoski and his family ran until last fall, when they established Sonny’s Kitchen in downtown Oregon.
He and his family bought a home here recently and are happy to be in Oregon.
“It’s a lot easier and way better,” he said. “We’re so happy with the area and the people and the town.”
Kasoski said there were lots of Albanians in the Madison area when he first arrived in 1993, including a cousin who owned a restaurant on North Main Street in Oregon.
Another relative, his brother-in-law Gus Selimi, owned and operated the Parkway Restaurant on Fish Hatchery Road in Madison, where Kasoski took a job bussing tables and gradually learned the ins and outs of the business, including how to run a kitchen.
But before he could flourish in his new home, Kasoski had to learn the language. There’s some irony that he picked up Spanish before English, he said, because most of the people he worked with in the beginning were from Mexico or Central America.
He said none of his family knew English when they got to the U.S.
“We had to learn because we wanted to succeed,” Kasoski said. “The more languages you learn, the smarter you are. And you never know where life will take you.”
He recalled working long days “especially in the beginning,” seven days a week, in order to earn money to support himself and his family.
“There’s so much you have to know to have a restaurant,” he said. “It’s not easy work, but we made it.”
A home in Oregon
Kasoski said he was happy working and living in Cross Plains and had no desire to go elsewhere.
That changed one day last year, when prominent Oregon property owners Jerry and Bonnie Thiel showed up at his Cross Plains restaurant. The couple was looking for someone with a successful track record to open an eatery in their building at 101 S. Main St. after Holstein Kitchen closed.
The Thiels had painstakingly restored their Main Street building and the space that formerly was home to a number of restaurants, including BrouxNellie’s Diner and later DeBroux’s Diner, which closed in 2015.
Kasoski said he knew about a vacant restaurant space in Oregon because a cousin had mentioned it. The cousin had also told the Thiels about Kasoski and his family.
He said the Thiels arrived one morning at his Cross Plains restaurant and ordered a meal. After a while, they told a server they were looking for Sam.
“They were checking me out,” Kasoski said. “They wanted to know about the food and how I ran the business.”
He recalled telling the Thiels he wasn’t looking to move, and besides, he was preparing to go back to Albania for a couple of months.
But he agreed to visit Oregon when he returned, and when he saw the Thiels’ building and vacant restaurant, “I started falling in love with the place,” he remembered.
He appreciated the historic qualities of the building and found the Thiels to be “very good people.” He decided to accept their offer and opened Sonny’s Kitchen on Oct. 25 last year.
“Whatever happens, it happened for a reason,” Kasoski said. “But it was tough in the beginning.”
He was commuting from Cross Plains early each morning in all kinds of weather, cooking all day and working late. Plus, it took time to hire and train a staff and create a menu.
All the while, Kasoski remembered, his new restaurant was getting busier and busier.
Meanwhile, he had left Sonny, 31, in charge of the Cross Plains restaurant.
“I was so busy in the beginning – right away – that I had to close the Cross Plains restaurant,” Kasoski recalled. “One day, I just called Sonny and said, ‘Close the restaurant and come here tomorrow. I need help.”
He could see that Oregon was a bigger, more prosperous community and decided to sell his business in Cross Plains and focus on the new venture, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.
The menu offers standard family-restaurant fare, with American, Mexican and Greek cuisines. A centerpiece of the dining room is a glass case filled with homemade pies.
Kasoski said business has remained strong, and he and his employees are “so very happy.”
Hostess Xandra Kashkashian, who served the same role at Holstein Kitchen, confirmed Kasoski’s comment, telling the Observer, “It’s a privilege to work for him.”
Kasoski said living in the U.S. is “a trillion times better” than Albania.
“I love my own country,” he said, “but I love America, too, because it’s given me opportunities. I probably would have never become a business owner in Albania.”