In 1994, the only thing Bill Brazil knew about Italian roast-beef sandwiches was that they could be found at a take-out spot in an old Taco Bell called Custino's on N May Ave.
Fifteen years later, Brazil is nearing a decade of success with Sophabella's Wine Bar and Bistro, 7628 N May, just a few blocks from the old Custino's. And he's also serving our Sandwich of the Month: the Italian Beef Combo. Brazil was managing a Kettle restaurant on N Meridian on Dec. 5, 1994, building on his restaurant career. In a blink of an eye, it all changed. "I was shot," Brazil said. A masked gunman burst into the store a little after 2 p.m. and began demanding customers get under their tables and turn over their valuables. Brazil said a bullet grazed his head. "I left the business after that," Brazil said. "Got a degree in business finance and moved to Chicago." But managing an office machinery outfit didn't fulfill him. He came back from Chicago with a newfound passion for the restaurant business and an equal passion for Italian food. "Believe it or not, everything at the Kettle was made in-house — pancake batters, waffle batters, biscuits, you name it," Brazil said. "I wanted to open an Italian restaurant that did that. ... We make our own pasta and do most of our own baking." Brazil gives credit to longtime friend Mark Amme, who owned Caffe Pranzo and helped get Pepperoni Grill off the ground. Amme agreed to make Brazil his kitchen apprentice for two years. "Mark is amazing. He really put us on a strong foundation." Brazil also got a boost when a cook he met in Chicago made a surprise visit to Oklahoma shortly after Sophabella's opened.