Arts & Entertainment: Bimbo’s – by Seventeen votes

In Tacoma, history has a flavor. It tastes like a plate of Bimbo’s spaghetti. For 70 years, it was Bimbo’s dark, smoky, mysterious sauce that kept cops on their beat, put the elbow in business deals and defined the downtown. That downtown was a frayed place from the 1970s to the millennium, a place that slipped into bars and peep shows, card rooms and shelters as commerce gasped toward Tacoma Mall. It was a place where people pointed at a building and the best they could say about it was, “That used to be...” All except the brick place at 1516 Pacific Ave. Bimbo’s opened in 1921, the enterprise of Vittorio “Bimbo” Perniconi. His sauces reminded Italian customers of the flavors they had left for the opportunities of this port city. The sauces beguiled diners to whom spaghetti was a romantic novelty. The sauces built the restaurant, and the restaurant helped keep life in downtown. But, in 2001, it was the spark of new life that killed Bimbo’s. The city bought out the neighborhood to build The Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center. Jerry Rosi, who owned Bimbo’s and whose personality was part of its recipe for success, sold the building, which was not worth much, and the recipe and pots, which had all the value of legend.The recipe went into a safe. Tollefson Plaza went onto the site. The city muddled around with plans for the recipe. It might license it to a restaurant, or a sauce maker for bottling. It might auction it off. In 13 years, it did not do anything. Grown men grew older yearning for Bimbo’s sauce. Good cooks tried and failed to recreate it. Against the odds, the old regulars hoped to taste history again.

Results of Joseppi's vs. Bimbo's Battle of the Sauses

With the Mayan Apocalypse looming, Tacoma’s reigning Spaghetti King, Tacoma/Pierce County Crime Stoppers, Charlie’s Dinosaur volunteers and Tacoma Weekly’s publisher made it happen. They cooked up Battle of the Sauces, Dec. 13 at Joseppi’s. Proceeds from the dinner, a raffle and silent auction went to Charlie’s Dinosaur, which gives kids going into foster care the supplies they need until they get settled again. Rosi agreed to make his sauce. Joe Stortini agreed to cook his, as well as the salad and dessert, and dedicate his restaurant for the night. That is pure Joe. After a life of teaching and serving in government, he has made his restaurant an engine of community support, inviting non-profits to use it for fund-raising takeovers. “Community service is away of life,” he said, with the reputation to back it up. “You’re only as good as the people around you.” There were a lot of people around him on Dec. 13. More than 300 people had bought tickets, and a chance to vote on the sauce. “We’ve been waiting for this day,” said Ken Paskett, who brought the extended family, none of whom minded the half-hour wait. “All our kids grew up going there,” said his wife Barbara. Their grandkids were not so lucky.

Her son and daughter-in-law, Jeff and Sarah Paskett, brought their kids Joshua, 11, Evan, 8, and Madeline, 5, for their first Bimbo’s experience at family-friendly Joseppi’s. “I have a son in San Jose who almost got on a plane for this,” Ken said. Budgets prevailed, he said, but barely. Jim and Cindy Williams came with Chris and Carol Luther, Randy Haugen and Kathy Gross, a friend from California. Jim Williams retired from the Tacoma Police Department after 30 years, many of them patrolling the Hillside and downtown. “Bimbo’s was my lunch spot,” he said. “My usual was a bowl of minestrone.” He still talks about that soup, Cindy said. “This brings back memories,” Jim said, lingering over his plate of Bimbo’s dark sauce. “Bimbo’s was a good place. There were all kinds of people, state senators and representatives, businessmen from Seattle and Tacoma. It was a very popular place for people to come to, even from outside.” Those were the days when people from “outside” did not come to downtown Tacoma much. Quite a few insiders did not come either.

“She didn’t like the downtown too much,” Jim said of Cindy, who never acquired a taste for the sauce, but who bore with Jim’s devastation when it disappeared. “He talked about it for weeks and weeks,” she said. “He could not believe that they would shut down such an iconic place.” She and her friends are Stortini types, she said. They have gone there forever with their families. Their kids chose it for wedding dinners. They like Joe’s sense of community. “I consider Joe one of those people who gives more than he takes,” said Randy Haugen, who preferred Joe’s sweet oregano, tomato paste and sausage to Bimbo’s cloves. At that table, Jim cast the sole vote for Bimbo’s. Even then, he wrote “Sorry Joe” on the ballot. Adrian Johnson, retired from the Department of Corrections, knew his vote before he sat down to his two sauces. He knew it before he bought his ticket. Yes, it would only be Bimbo’s dark red sauce, not the antipasto, the chicken and spaghetti or the sautéed rabbit. But it would be enough. He looked at his plate, held up his fork, and paused. “I tell you,” he said. “It’s going to be wonderful to taste it again.” In the end it was close. With more than 300 votes, Bimbo’s led by 17. Six alleged celebrity judges tied, and children chose Joe’s bright sauce by a huge margin.

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