DAN VOELPEL; THE NEWS TRIBUNE
Gordon Naccarato’s downtown neighbors continue to drop like flies drowning in hot soup. But the hometown chef continues to cook up one success after another.
His latest hit? Tacoma’s newest and classiest event space: Pacific Grill Events Center, a $2 million build out of the ground floor inside the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel.
Meanwhile, across South 15th Street in the Rainier Pacific Bank Building, Mackay Restaurant Group closed its highly touted Sea Grill Restaurant on Sunday.
Last week, Quiznos shuttered its sandwich shop in the former Schoenfeld’s furniture building across Pacific Avenue. Last month, the UPS Brown Store closed its branch inside the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center. And Starbucks abandoned its space next to Sea Grill last October.
The neighborhood surrounding the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center hasn’t progressed according to plan.
You can blame it on the economy. Or you can blame it on the City of Tacoma’s $85 million convention center’s failure to attract enough out-of-town events to spin out dollars into the pockets of nearby merchants.
Among the 24 events booked there this month, you’ll find 17 local events, including three weddings and two church services.
But you won’t hear Naccarato complaining. Much. His team, headed by general manager Chip Venzone, has booked more than 75 events in their new center in less than a month.
“Everyone’s feeling (the bad economy) a bit, but we haven’t seemed to suffer as much as some others,” Naccarato said during an interview in the largest of his new event spaces. The Pacific Ballroom, with its molded cream glass chandeliers and dark paneling, can host groups up to 250 – or divide into two smaller rooms.
Across a grand entrance hallway that features a wall-size gas fireplace, you can also book the quainter Commerce Room with its big-screen TV for groups up to 56.
When I broke the news in January 2005 about Naccarato’s plans for this block of Pacific Avenue, he had a different idea for the same space. In addition to Pacific Grill, Naccarato planned to open a second restaurant, Mariel, named after his adult daughter. The urban bistro would have served small plates, intended for sharing, complete with an upscale wine bar featuring a Cruvinet to dispense wine by the glass.
It never happened.
Colliers International shopped the vacant space for the Hollander Hotel Group, which owns the Marriott, but could never find a taker. Then came the 2007 Christmas season. Naccarato recorded roughly $100,000 in business lost from groups he turned away due to lack of space.
“I’m glad I didn’t do Mariel,” he said. “In retrospect, with the economy going the way it went, it wouldn’t have worked.”
But Pacific Grill has worked enough that the spin-off into event space – where groups can order many of the same menu items – makes economic sense now. How has Naccarato done it while others have failed?
He also founded Pacific Grill with 30 mostly local investors who help draw friends and family.
Or, maybe, Naccarato simply has a golden touch. He’s the son of Stan “Mr. Tacoma” Naccarato – the influential, longstanding fan of Destiny City sports, business and community spirit.
When Gordon Naccarato left for law school in Los Angeles, he eventually dropped torts for tarts.
Food & Wine magazine named him one of the 10 Best New Chefs in the United States in 1988.
Here’s another clue, a Gordon Naccarato quote three months before Pacific Grill opened: “Lots of restaurants define the city they’re in. That’s what I want this to be. Like the city’s been distilled into what the restaurant is.”
Dan Voelpel: 253-597-8785