Restaurant name goes back to family, but Bimbo's recipes in limbo
Let me see if Ive got this right.
The City of Tacoma buys the sauce recipes and the locally famous name of a restaurant thats been in business for 80 years. The recipes sit for a decade under seal in a city safe. A few opportunities to use or sell the recipes arise, but fall like a cheap soufflé. Then the original owner buys the trademark back, and the city is left with recipes that dare not say their name.
So the legacy of Bimbo's Italian Restaurant has been restored to the Bimbo family.
Yep. Thats the story.SURVIVAL
Bimbos Italian Restaurant survived the Great Depression and the Second World War. It was born into a lively downtown Tacoma neighborhood that would become home to scores of businesses including penny arcades and pawn shops, shoeshine parlors and small hotels, busy taverns and seedy bars.
Bimbos itself would become a rendezvous for lawbreakers and lawmen, governors and mayors, judges, cops, business bigwigs, local celebrities and hungry families.
Then, after 80 years, Bimbos would die alone on a street empty of enterprise.
The iconic restaurant could not survive the dreams of a city determined to reinvent itself. In 2001, the City of Tacoma paid owner Jerry Rosi the great-nephew of founder Vittorio "Bimbo" Perniconi $366,000 to go away.
The city was building a convention center, originally sited where Bimbos stood on the west side of the 1500 block of Pacific Avenue.
A handful of nearby businesses were paid to relocate. Bimbos, however, would close.
Rosi would get the money and the city would get the leasehold, fixtures, kitchen equipment and, most notably, the name "Bimbos Italian Restaurant" and the recipes for a quartet of pasta sauces that had been handed down through at least three generations.
Today those recipes remain sealed in an envelope in the safe of the city clerk.
But the name is gone.
Last November, Jerry Rosi bought it back.
For $500.THE DEAL
It was an acquisition in lieu of relocation, said Steve Victor, in 2001 the Tacoma City Attorney and now in the same position in University Place.
He recalls, In all likelihood, the valuation for the business would have been the same without the recipes. What makes this zany is the focus on those recipes.
According to the Association of Washington Cities and the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington, Tacoma is the only city in the state to hold recipes as a municipal asset.
Victor, who can boast of his own culinary heritage in Tacoma, recalls the taste at Bimbos.
It would not be possible to come up with a more authentic Sicilian meat sauce. Its the real deal, he said recently.
As far as the idea of a city owning the recipes, Victor said, It was the Tacoma-ness of it.
Jerry Rosi began working at Bimbos when he was 14, and he bought it from family members in 1965. After selling it, and opening another restaurant at James Center, and after the new owner at Bimbos failed to succeed, Rosi reclaimed it in 1985.
He returned to find a dying neighborhood. A few cafes, the U&I and South Pacific, remained, as did a porno bookstore, one pawn shop and the Tacoma Rescue Mission.
The needle exchange was down there, Rosi said recently during an interview in his North Tacoma home.
When the city came with its offer, and realizing that he could not afford to relocate, Rosi said, I just said 'fine.' It was a way out. I couldnt get good help. I just said take the keys.
The keys and the name, and the recipes for the pesto, clam, marinara and meat sauces.
When people find out who I am, they say, I miss the sauce and I wish I could get it. Id like to have it again. THE IDEAS
But how could that once-famous meat sauce turn a profit, and how could Tacoma honor the legacy of one of its most famous restaurants?
No recipes remain from the Top of the Ocean, New Yorker, Honans, Crawfords, Three Keys, The Islander, Lindys. California Oyster House, Scotties, Ohop Bob, Ben Dews.
But the Bimbos recipes remained available.
Various ideas have come and gone during the past decade.
In 2007, Martha Anderson, the citys assistant director for community and economic development, wondered if maybe the time had come present the people of the city with the citys sauce.
She contacted David Bobo, then the general manager of the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center which was indeed the cause, in effect, of Bimbos demise.
I called him based on an inquiry from a citizen about the sauce: how and when it could be made available, Anderson said at the time. Since we have a very nice convention center, I called David to see if there was some way their chef could use the recipe for events, and possibly be made available for purchase. David said he would try to make it happen in 2008.
We didnt get too far, Bobo said a few weeks ago. I didnt get a lot of answers about the legalities. I think I got excited about it, and thought maybe there was some synergy there. It was an iconic brand, a Tacoma flavor if you will. We need to hold on to our icons. Here we plopped our convention center on top of them, why dont we do something about it?
Nothing happened. No traction.
Along the way, a city employee under a pledge of secrecy did prepare the meat sauce as a test. The results were mixed.
In a 2004 email with the subject line: "Confidential Report on Special Assignment," John OLoughlin said the meat sauce definitely lacked something ingredients, preparation technique, or possibly seasoning of the pot.
One Tacoma restaurateur was ready to join the party.
Gordon Naccarato founded his upscale Pacific Grill near the site where Bimbos stood, and he thought about cooking Bimbos red sauce, adding it as a special to his menu and donating the proceeds to charity.
The city wanted $50,000 for the recipe. I just wanted to use it, not profit by it. We went back and forth. Wed be here the rest of our life trying to pay that recipe off. It was just paying homage.
But homage was not paid.LEGACY RETURNED
Last November, Jerry Rosi sent a letter to Martha Anderson, now interim director of the citys economic development office, and offered $500 for the Bimbos name.
We want to keep it a part of our family heritage, he wrote.
According to city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff, then-director Ryan Petty decided to meet Rosis request.
Petty said earlier this month that his goal was to keep it local.
Along with honoring the legacy, Rosi said he bought the name back just in case I want to go back in business. Ive been thinking about it for a long time.
It remains a question for legal scholars whether, without the Bimbos name, the recipes in the city safe retain any value.
Im surprised that we sold it for next to nothing, said City Councilmember Joe Lonergan.
I wish we would have done something fun and grand with it, auctioned it off at a citywide event, or named a concession stand in the a city facility Bimbos, said City Councilmember Marty Campbell.
The real point was to pay a fair price for the assets of the business, city spokesman McNair-Huff said, referring to the $366,000 the city spent in 2001.
And that $500?
Its a good price to keep your dream alive, he said.