Husband and wife duo take over one of Northampton's longest-running restaurants

Joanna Imeraj pictured with her team outside Bridge Street restaurant, Sophia's.
Joanna Imeraj pictured with her team outside Bridge Street restaurant, Sophia's.

Joanna and Fitim dreamt of owning their own restaurant for many years and when the opportunity arose to take on a local institution - they grabbed it with both hands.

Although the husband and wife team have never owned a dining venue before, they are now the new owners of Sophia's in Bridge Street, one of Northampton's best-loved restaurants.

Joanna and Fitim Imeraj, from Abington, found out about the business being up for sale through a friend-of-a-friend who had known the former restaurant owner, John Panayis, for many years.

John - known for the rapport he had with his customers - retired in December.

SEE MORE: Take a look inside Sophia's restaurant as new owners Joanna and Fitim take over

"It felt right, you know," Joanna said about taking over the business. "It felt like it was meant to be and that's pretty much how we've lived our lives, going on gut instinct. It's never done us harm so far.

"I do strongly believe everything happens for a reason."

The standard of John's service is something the couple want to continue.

But the duo have made some changes to the decor, namely the flooring, and the upholstery. They have also brought in Roman-themed art work for the walls, created by a film set designer.

The menu is changing slightly too but is still staying loyal to its Italian-Mediterranean roots for now. They have bought a charcoal grill, which they are excited to cook sea bass and steaks on and are now open for lunch, with a two-course menu for £15.50, which they're keen to push.

Joanna said: "I am not going to change it too much. I'm slightly changing the decor because I feel it's a bit dated, it will be more themed, like old Roman Italy.

"At the moment it's just giving it a face lift and in the future I want it to be a place people still want to come to eat and enjoy.

"There's a lot of regulars that we cherish and we want to keep them coming basically and keep making people happy."

Ex-builder Fitim took over the restaurant because of his love for food and Joanna was happy to support him.

"It was my husband's passion, it was his dream. I'm quite happy to do his dream," Joanna added.

"I've done a lot of dinner dances in the past for charity events. I did work in hospitality in agency catering but I'm learning as I go at the minute. I've got a very good team.

"The majority [of the team] have stayed from John Panayis and we have Paul, who is John's brother. He is still here as a waiter so I have a very good guide."

Joanna is considering launching a live music night and has plans in the pipeline to host Greek-themed evenings.

The restaurant is now open lunchtimes: 11am until 3pm between Tuesday and Saturday, and could soon open on Sundays after trialling this coming Mother's Day. Evening meals can be booked between 5pm and 10pm from Tuesday to Saturday too. The restaurant also offers a children's menu.