If you’ve read my novel HEADLOCK, you know about Robert Fazzari and the Pastime Cafe in Walla Walla, WA. The sequel to HEADLOCK, although unfinished, begins there also, and no doubt end there as well — the Pastime closed this weekend. Here’s the story from this week’s Walla Walla Union-Bulletin:
Finding a seat at the Pastime Cafe on Thursday would practically have taken a miracle.
just because of the buy-one-lasagna-dinner-get-another-half-price
special that for years made Thursday a must-stop for pasta lovers at
the Main Street restaurant.
are crawling out of the woodwork to say goodbye to the historic Italian
cafe with the neon sign. On Saturday the business will close after more
than eight decades of business.
going there with my dad when I was a little kid,’ said daily customer
Dominick Elia. “I think that’s what people are going to miss.
“I took my son there as a boy, and I think he was looking forward to one day taking his little girl there.’
Linda Fisher, a waitress and bartender at the Pastime for the last nine years, is preparing for an emotional last shift.
“I’ve had so many customers tell me this is a family place,’ she said. “Customers are so upset.’
many of them have seen this coming as talk of a sale has swirled since
last summer. But until now, owner Robert Fazzari would not publicly
confirm the rumors in case the deal fell through.
Fazzari now says that after closing Saturday he plans to pass the keys to new owner Charles Smith.
“It’s going to be hard walking out that door,’ Fazzari said. “I’ve spent three-quarters of my life here.’
Terms of the
sale have not been disclosed. Smith, owner of local winery K Vintners,
will reportedly remodel portions of the inside before opening a new
restaurant. He could not be reached for comment. But one feature that
won’t be carried over with his ownership are the recipes that have been
the tradition of the Pastime. Fazzari said those will remain with him.
take possession of the building Jan. 31. The 10 days in between the
close of the business and the close of the sale will give Fazzari time
to clean and tie up loose ends.
the Vargas pinup girl decor on the brick interior of the bar and nearly
every other storied decoration will be part of the sale. Though the
family pictures will go with Fazzari, Smith has reportedly asked to get
copies, presumably to pay tribute to a family restaurant that’s hosted
celebratory dinners, jurors from the courthouse, farmers in dirty boots
and politicians campaigning with the breakfast crowd.
are all tied in with the aroma of the food. And the closure marks not
only the end of the restaurant, but a symbol of Italian heritage.
“So many families have worked here,’ Fazzari said.
But as more
and more restaurants open, carrying on the 18-hour days Fazzari learned
from his father becomes more and more difficult.
“As more restaurants come into Walla Walla, the pie gets thinner and thinner,’ he said.
have shown over the last few years. Despite the regular customers, as
reliable as the sunrise each morning as they trickle in throughout the
day – some veering left to the dining room, others headed to the bar at
the right – the business is not as busy as it was.
Six or seven
years ago, when the doors opened at 5:30 a.m., it took about 40
employees to staff the business. Now the restaurant opens at 8 a.m. and
staff has been trimmed to 18 or 19 employees, Fazzari said.
consistency is the valued trademark, whether there be 50 employees or
five. That’s what built the name when in the 1920s Fazzari’s
grandfather, Louis Fazzari, became involved.
a history of the Pastime – printed and displayed on the back of the
business’s menu – it started in 1920 as a cigar store by two Japanese
men on Fourth Avenue.
Five years later, Louis Fazzari and Same Mele bought the store and moved it to its Main Street location.
In 1927, Frank Rizzuti bought Mele’s interest in the business.
brought in to the picture until 1932, and only in limited capacity.
With no kitchen on the premises, Louis’ wife Jennie prepared Italian
food at home and Frank’s wife, Lena, made American food.
was one of the few businesses that flourished during the Great
Depression. Not long after that, it expanded, adding the cafe and
kitchen in 1935.
With an air
base in Walla Walla during World War II, the business’s popularity
continued to grow. In 1949, it again expanded, adding the “Venetian
Room,’ which could accommodate banquets and private parties. Today,
it’s the restaurant’s dining room.
Fazzari retired in 1959, and his son Frank bought his share of the
business. Louis, however, remained active until his death in 1983.
Frank bought Rizutti’s share, becoming sole owner. With the help of
many family members, including his children and sisters, Dorothy
Criscola and Alice Pontarolo, he was head of operations until his death
Son Robert Fazzari, who had worked in the restaurant since he was 12, became the operator with restaurant manager Craig Arland.
proud to carry on the traditions. To this day, he cashes checks brought
in by customers and happily serves hearty meals to the down-trodden and
“A man who’s down and out and needs a bowl of soup and a burger – of course we’ll give it to them,’ he said.
Where folks will be able to go for that service is not clear. Customers and employees say there’s no other place like it.
Fazzari’s future, he says he’s not sure. He is also not confirming
rumors that he and Arland plan to take the recipes and open a new
But with equal parts gratitude and exhaustion, he said it’s time for him to try something different.
probably be a couple of weeks before I decide to drive passed the
place,’ he said. “The customers, the employees – of course I’ll miss
them. I grew up with them.’