Seattle pizza makers planning to open in downtown Tacoma

Tacoma News TribuneJune 10, 2014 

The University of Washington Tacoma is proposing a raised patio addition to the old Grassi's Cafe location, on the corner of Pacific Avenue and South 17th Streets. The patio would face the Prairie Line Trail, now under construction.


A Seattle wood-fired pizza restaurant plans to open its second location on the campus of the University of Washington Tacoma.

James Allard, a co-owner of Elemental Pizza in University Village, said Tuesday that while no lease is signed yet, it's simply a matter of time and paperwork. He and his business partner, Steve Rosin, have a letter of interest with the UWT, and they plan to open in the old Grassi's location by the end of the year.

"It's been remarkable, seeing the changes in Tacoma," he said. "And there is more exciting stuff to come."

Elemental will lease about 4,000 square feet from the UWT in the historic building on the corner of Pacific Avenue and South 17th Street. University officials are devotedly calling it "the Pagni & Lenti building," named for its first occupants in the late 1800s, though most people identify it with Grassi's Garden Cafe, which opened there in 1991 and closed about a year ago.

The most striking feature of Elemental Pizza's Tacoma restaurant is a proposed outdoor seating area along the back of the building. The 600-square-foot raised patio will put it around 4 feet above the Prairie Line Trail, now under construction.

The building is in the Union Depot-Warehouse Historic District, so the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission must approve any changes to the outside of the structure. University officials will be making an advisory presentation Wednesday (June 11) and will come back to the commission for formal approval as it seeks building permits.

University officials anticipate no trouble with their eventual application.

"The Prairie Line Trail (design) has been around for some time, and the deck has been part of that discussion before any lease was discussed with a specific tenant," said Pat Clark, director of real estate and campus planning for the UWT.

Reuben McKnight, the city's historic preservation officer, said the fact that the addition is proposed for the back of the building will help.

Allard said he and Rosin would have asked for outdoor seating if the school hadn't already planned on it. The climate doesn't seem suited for it, Allard said, "but when the weather is good here, it's great."

Allard and Rosin have plenty of experience expanding restaurants. Before opening Elemental Pizza, they founded Blue-C Sushi and Boom Noodle. Those had nine locations all together before Allard and Rosin sold their interest.

Elemental Pizza in Seattle has capitalized on their proximity to the University of Washington, Allard said, so opening on campus in Tacoma seemed natural. Allard also has a Tacoma connection: His parents grew up here, he said, and both attended Stadium High School.

The Tacoma location will be bigger than the Seattle one, where about 40 people work. Allard anticipates hiring 50 people in Tacoma, both full- and part-time. The campus already is home to The Rock Wood-Fired Pizza & Spirits, on Jefferson Avenue, though the school does not control that building. It's owned by the owners of The Rock.

Allard and Rosin are working with Graham Baba Architects in Seattle on the indoor plans. The firm is known for its work on adaptive re-use of historic buildings, including the Melrose Market on Capital Hill.


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