When Primo Grill reopens Friday at its new home at Sixth and Oakes, diners will find a restaurant more muted than its former life at Sixth and Pine.
Reclaimed wood and exposed brick form the palette. The motif is what owners Charlie McManus and Jacqueline Plattner described as their take on “modern Northwest design.”
But it wouldn’t be Primo without a spark of colorful artwork, right? Playing against that muted backdrop of the restaurant’s surfaces will be a vibrant swirl of color - a five-panel mural over the bar spanning 30 feet, topping a wall lined with brick.
Those five panels depict a distinctly South Sound scene, and also relay a longtime partnership between the Tacoma restaurant and student artists from Tacoma Community College. Those students spent about a year researching and painting the mural.
“It’s tying us to the community and to the local farmland. The mural’s an expression for our concern for the land, and our love of this area dominated by the mountain. It helps tie Primo to the community in a new way,” said McManus by phone in November when student artists were working on the painting. It was completed late this spring, just in time for Primo Grill’s move.
The partnership with TCC began when McManus and wife Jacqueline Plattner asked student artists to hand paint the tabletops of Primo Grill, which opened at Sixth and Pine in 1999. That partnership grew to an auction fundraiser at the restaurant that over a decade has fetched more than $100,000 to support an arts scholarship program and fund art supplies for students.
In Primo’s new home, those colorful tabletops were swapped out for the mural, which Marit Berg, art department chair at TCC, said would be easier for the restaurant to care for and clean than the tabletops that were showing signs of wear. Creating art for a commercial business such as a restaurant takes care, and plenty of clear varnish. As Berg noted, the dinged-up tables had trouble withstanding the test of time. The mural should have little trouble there.
“It’s one continuous scene, but it’s multiple perspectives,” described Berg in May by phone when students were in the final stages of painting. She added, “They’re (Charlie and Jacqueline) always trying to source locally, so we went to our closest local farming area - the Puyallup valley. It’s an iconic and familiar stretch of land. You’ll recognize it instantly when you see it. It’s very colorful and it’s not super realistic. It’s more interpretive and stylized. You’ll see the stretch from Mount Rainier into the valley and all the way into Tacoma.”
It’s in that valley that Primo Grill sources its salad greens from Terry Carkner at Terry’s Berries and produce such as beets, sun chokes and celery roots from Dan Hulse’s Tahoma Farms. (Fun Primo Grill fact - Hulse worked as a table busboy at Primo while a college student.)
Plenty of other changes are coming with the opening of Primo Grill. Check back next week for a report about the restaurant’s move away from cooking with a wood-fired oven, its focus on new menu items and what’s happening at its sister establishment next door, Crown Bar.
Primo GrillWhat: Reopening, Friday Aug. 8, 2014Hours: Serving dinner only, the restaurant does not serve lunchFind it: The new address is 2701 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-383-7000 or primogrilltacoma.comBackground: Read this report about the restaurant's move. Read this in-depth Q&A with Charlie McManus and Jacqueline Plattner. Read this 2013 review of Primo Grill.