Primo Grill, an anchor restaurant in Tacoma's Sixth Avenue neighborhood, will move next year.
Husband-wife owners Charlie McManus and Jacqueline Plattner will relocate Primo about three blocks away to a building they own, which currently houses their sibling business, Crown Bar. No changes are planned for the footprint of Crown Bar.
The move is not expected to be completed until July, if all construction goes as planned. Primo’s move will mean just a few weeks of dormant time for the Mediterranean restaurant, which will continue to operate at Sixth and Pine as the new space is constructed at Sixth and Oakes.
The move will be a financial gain for Primo, said McManus, who noted they’ll be their own landlords, not just tenants.“We own the building we’re moving into and we’ll have synergy with our other business Crown being in the same building,” he said Monday. “Our 15-year lease is up in our current building and our leases for our tenants (in the Crown building) just happened to be up in the same month. We thought, ‘Let’s have a new beginning.’”
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Work on the new Primo space will begin after that building’s tenants move to new locations in the same building or elsewhere. House of Tattoo will move to where the A-Plus driving school currently operates. The driving school will move to a new space on the South side of the building. Clip-N-Clean, the dog groomers, will leave the building (the business will still operate its North End location).
Moving gives the couple an opportunity to retool the decor and kitchen of Primo, a restaurant with a menu that covers a broad swath of the Mediterranean. The heart of Primo’s kitchen and menu always has been the massive on-display wood-fired oven. That oven cannot be moved to the new space, said McManus, because of structural problems with the dome of the oven. With that in mind, McManus has begun designing a new display oven for Primo. A smoker also will be installed, which will be used for Primo’s menu, as well as Crown Bar’s.
McManus and Plattner are planning several energy efficient kitchen upgrades at the new space. “Technology has changed a lot in 14 years (since we opened Primo) and we’re going to avail ourselves with cool mechanical technology,” said McManus in a phone interview. “The hoods we (are installing) now, the way they’re designed, they don’t move the same amount of air as the ones in Primo. They’re more energy efficient and silent. The dishwasher we’re buying works on cold water, as opposed to hot water, and doesn’t need a (venting) hood. It captures all of the steam from its cycles and uses the steam to heat more water.” They’re also looking into a draft wine system that dispenses wine, cutting down on glass waste.
The decor will include reclaimed pieces, such as Douglas fir flooring salvaged by a Puyallup company. While wood surfaces will give the restaurant warmth, McManus and Plattner said, the decor will turn vibrant from artwork created by students at Tacoma Community College. McManus and Plattner long have had a partnership with that college’s art program (including funding a scholarship program). Students painted Primo’s tabletops at its current home. At the new space, TCC students will design a 30-foot mural inspired by the region’s agrarian roots. Primo will continue featuring displays from professional artists on its walls, too.
Furthering the modern feel, cantina windows will open accordion style onto Oakes Street. The dining room will emphasize Primo’s communal dining spirit with a long banquette spanning a portion of the dining room, creating double-sided seating. The display kitchen will echo Primo’s current configuration with very little separation between chefs and diners. Seating will be just a few shy of the current restaurant, which seats 85. Very little will change about the menu at Primo, which will continue to serve Mediterranean fare washed with Northwest flavors and South Sound ingredients, such as pork from Cheryl Oullette's Tacoma Farm, seafood from Kamilche Farms in Shelton and produce from Tahoma Farms in Orting.
Primo Grill opened in 1999 on Sixth Avenue and, at the time, was one of very few chef-owned restaurants in Tacoma. McManus, who moved to the Northwest from Ireland, got his start at Seattle’s Il Bistro, working up from dishwasher to chef -and where he met his future wife. McManus and Plattner moved to Tacoma and McManus worked at Altezzo at the Sheraton before Plattner left her day job and the couple opened Primo Grill. In 2007, they opened Crown Bar. Read a full review of Primo Grill from January 2013 here.