By Kevin Revolinski | Photography by Shalicia Johnson
Albanian transplants and husband and wife Gjyner and Zamira Lumani — along with Gjyner’s brother, Faton Lumani and his wife Luda — have co-owned Sofra Family Bistro since 1991 and Villa Dolce since 2006.
Zamira already had hospitality experience. As a young girl, her father brought their family to the U.S., and they owned restaurants in Illinois before moving to Madison and owning Coppertop Family Restaurant in the 1980s.
Gjyner and Zamira, who met at a wedding back in Europe, manage Sofra, which means “family table” in Albanian. Originally, the restaurant was named Bavaria Family Restaurant, but the family changed the name to speak to their heritage.
“It is crucial that our kids know where they came from,” says Zamira. “My parents instilled that into me.” To that point, photos from family trips to Macedonia and Croatia adorn the walls at Sofra.
The menu features made-from-scratch dishes (even down to the soup stocks) and lists many familiar lunch and breakfast items. But, elements of Albanian culture are also woven into the offerings. The crepes are a family recipe. The lamb-beef blend Albanian sausage (served with certain menu items) is paired with kajmak, a creamy cheese and garlic sauce. The homemade sausages are also available to-go.
The front of the house is staffed by Zamira, Gjyner, and their two children, and a few employees assist in the kitchen. Their daughter Krenare, a full- time teacher, also uses Sofra as a base for her part-time dessert business.
“My children are the backbone of our place,” says Zamira. “For me, it’s our heart and soul. This is where we raised our family.”