Bimbo’s sauce is back, in limited supply

Staff writerJune 21, 2013 

After spending most of his life in his family’s restaurant, the scent of Italian meat sauce was in more than just Jerry Rosi’s clothes. It reached his heart and stayed.

This week, he gave a piece of that heart and nearly 100 quarts of his famous Bimbo’s sauce to some needy people in the community where he’s made a life.

Bimbo’s, an Italian fixture for more than 80 years, began in 1921 as a Tacoma lunch counter on Pacific Avenue. It was opened by Vittorio “Bimbo” Perniconi, Rosi’s great uncle. By the time Rosi was born in 1945, his father, Reno, was managing the cafe.

“I probably first went there in the late ’40s, and there was always a plate of spaghetti,” Rosi said. “At 14, I was working there washing dishes – I worked my way up.”

At 20, he was taught to cook.

“When my great-uncle retired, so did one of his three cooks, Sammy. He taught me everything he knew,” Rosi said.

Including how to cook Bimbo’s four sauces – meat sauce, tomato sauce, pesto and clam.

“None of them were ever written down, but it’s basically never changed,” Rosi said. “There’s not a lot of ingredients. The key is keep your eye on it, and within a couple of minutes of the time everything comes together, you mix it all and let it simmer – or it’s ruined.”

In 1965, Rosi bought out his great uncle Vito. Thirty-six years later, the city of Tacoma bought out Rosi to make room for a convention center that wound up being built somewhere else.

“They bought out my lease, pots and pans, and paid for the recipes,” he said.

Bimbo’s closed, and with it, customers lost the sauces they’d come to love over generations.

In retirement, Rosi did yard work, kept up on the world and cooked – at least a couple of times a week – for wife Rene and anyone who happened by. And when he cooked, he always made that meat sauce.

“I’ve known Jerry for a long time, at first as a customer,” his friend Jeff Graham said. “I missed that sauce. The last two or three years, whenever I hosted my cigar club, I had Jerry make that sauce.”

In 2011, Rosi bought back the family recipes from the city. For about 10 years, the Tacoma resident had been thinking about re-opening a restaurant, but knew it wasn’t going to happen.

“Nowadays, restaurants come and go, and opening one is a seven-day-a-week proposition,” Rosi said. “I love cooking, but I don’t like the prep work, the cleanup.”

Graham and a member of his cigar club, Mike Hargreaves, talked about the sauce and the man who made it. Hargreaves, who owns Stadium Thriftway, had an idea revolving around the store’s full-service kitchen. Graham put Hargreaves and Rosi together to discuss it.

“I made him an offer,” Hargreaves said. “He comes in one, two days a week, and cooks as much as he can cook in a day – 32 quarts of his sauce.

“We do the prep work, supply the ingredients, but the most important ingredient is Jerry. When he’s done cooking, he leaves and we clean up.

“It’s fun, a unique thing in the store.”

A quart jar of Bimbo’s meat sauce goes for $12.95 at the Thriftway. Hargreaves said they sell fast.

Rosi enjoyed the project so much he decided to give something back to the community. He settled on The Rescue Mission in Tacoma, which years ago stood next to Bimbo’s restaurant.

On Tuesday, Rosi used Graham’s home kitchen to cook up close to 100 quarts of meat sauce. A day later, with Hargreaves’ store and grocery supplier providing pasta, salad and bread, the men put on a spaghetti feed for the less fortunate.

“We fed about 300 people at the downtown mission and another 100 at the Adams Street Family Campus,” said Lindsey Hintz, director of volunteers for the mission.

Rosi was in his element.

“I was third-generation at Bimbo’s, and we had customers who’d come in for two and three generations, people I knew,” he said. “I miss that, I miss feeding people, cooking for them.”

At 68, he thinks the family recipes may die when he does.

“I taught my two children to cook, but they each went in different directions,” he said. “It’s not a matter of ingredients. The key is timing and cooking without distraction. You burn the onions, that’s it. You’ve ruined it all.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638
larry.larue@thenewstribune.com
blog.thenewstribune.com/larue

The News Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service