UWT to pay almost $1 million to move Old Spaghetti Factory out of campus building

University of Washington Tacoma plans to renovate the property that houses the Old Spaghetti Factory on Jefferson Avenue in Tacoma. The restaurant will move to a different downtown location.
University of Washington Tacoma plans to renovate the property that houses the Old Spaghetti Factory on Jefferson Avenue in Tacoma. The restaurant will move to a different downtown location. Staff photographer

The University of Washington Tacoma has agreed to pay Old Spaghetti Factory almost $1 million in exchange for the restaurant moving out of its four-decade location on campus.

The lease-buyout agreement was negotiated after the university received $18 million from the Legislature to renovate the Tacoma Paper & Stationery building, where Old Spaghetti Factory has been since 1971.

The buyout figure was negotiated to $992,000, university spokesman Mike Wark said. Those funds will come out of the school’s reserves, not from the money designated by the Legislature.

“This is what both parties felt was fair,” he said, and will allow the restaurant to “get established in a new location without their business being harmed.”

A spokesman for the restaurant’s parent company, Portland’s OSF International, said it was pleased with the respectful discussions about the lease.

“The biggest thing we’re looking forward to is to renew our presence in Tacoma and (to) be there for generations to come,” Ryan Durrett, OSF’s marketing director, said last week.

In late July, the owners of Pacific Plaza at 1250 Pacific Ave. announced that the restaurant would be moving into the space formerly occupied by the Tacoma City Grocer. The move and subsequent buyout was necessary because the UWT plans a major renovation of the building for more classroom and lab space, and the restaurant had a lease that allowed it to stay through 2019.

The buyout agreement, signed in early August, requires the university to pay $900,000 in installments, and it gives the restaurant about six months of free rent in its current location at 1735 Jefferson Ave. The free rent is valued at about $92,000.

The money will come from the school’s reserve fund, Wark said, which is $10 million saved from operating funds over time. The University Y Student Center was partially funded from the reserve fund as well — $4 million that matched the student government’s investment in the project.

While $1 million is a lot of money by any standard, relocating a restaurant is an expensive proposition. Most of the essential equipment — such as walk-in refrigerators and venting hoods — is custom-built to fit the location. Those items can’t be moved, so new ones have to be installed at the Pacific Avenue location.

The most expensive components of a restaurant’s equipment are ventilation and refrigeration, said Rick Ellingson of Bargreen Ellingson, a Fife-based company that provides equipment, design and fabrication for restaurants. Ellingson has managed OSF’s account for decades and has set up kitchens for the company across the country.

Old Spaghetti Factory chefs “scratch make everything they serve,” Ellingson said. “They’ll be putting in these big steam kettles. Three of them. They batch cook sauces from scratch.”

The kettles hold 40 gallons and cost around $10,000 each, he said.

“The whole kitchen will be about $550,000 worth of equipment,” Ellingson said. “The kitchen is big. (And) I would not be the least bit surprised if they don’t spend another $350,000 on plumbing and electrical work.”

A restaurant can’t afford to close for long during a relocation. Ellingson said it was likely that Old Spaghetti Factory will be open at its current location until the day before the new restaurant opens.

“They can’t close for a month, lay off people and reopen. That’s expensive. They have to stay open,” he said.

OSF’s Durrett wouldn’t commit to no lag time, but did say the company is striving to have “as close to uninterrupted service as possible.”

The move and reopening will take place sometime between the end of the year and the first quarter of 2016.

Durrett did have good news for Old Spaghetti Factory loyalists: When the restaurant opens in its new location, the signature trolley will be ready and waiting.

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