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August 31, 2015

Old Spaghetti Factory's move has big implications

Business Examiner

Zachariah Bryan

The Old Spaghetti Factory is finding a new home in Tacoma, and it has economic implications beyond just serving pasta to the masses.

The Factory's new home will sit on the ground floor of Pacific Plaza at 1250 Pacific Avenue - the former location of now-closed IGA Tacoma City Grocer. It will be moving there after 44 years at its original Tacoma location (1735 Jefferson Avenue), which the company has agreed to vacate to make way for continued University of Washington Tacoma expansion.

Back in July, UWT announced that it received funding to renovate its last historic warehouse and current home to the eatery, thanks to $16 million budgeted for the project by the State Legislature. That building, the 40,000-square-foot Tacoma Paper and Stationery Building, will house labs and classrooms for science and technology programs. It will also host new engineering and biomedical science degree programs.

As a result, UWT approached Old Spaghetti Factory about relocating and the two parties have since come to an agreement to end the lease early.

Ultimately, this is good news for longtime restaurant operators, said Kidder Mathews executive vice president Jeff Kraft.

"Where is the center of Tacoma? "Kraft asked rhetorically. "I think inevitably the answer is Pacific and 13th - the reason being some of the largest buildings of Tacoma are right off that corner."

Those buildings include Wells Fargo Building, Columbia Bank Building, Tacoma Financial Center, Pacific Place and Umpqua Bank headquarters, as well as one glaringly empty undeveloped space called the Haub site where Greyhound buses once called.

"The Old Spaghetti Factory immediately saw the value off this corner in capitalizing on all of the immediate adjacent office on this corner, "Kraft said. "The immediate value is from the daytime population. But (there's also value) based on how easy the access is coming right off the freeway there, which drops you down right in front of the building."

He continued, "It is a definite upgrade in location from the standpoint of traffic, visibility and immediate daytime offices adjacent and above the location."

For the people in the surrounding buildings, and for Tacoma in general, Old Spaghetti Factory will help fill a hole in the downtown core. And to cater to the professional crowd, the restaurant is looking at

expanding its bar and lounge.

"It will really bring a dining experience and lounge experience to the core of downtown, which it has been lacking for years,"Kraft said.

Kraft said he believes the grocery store was a good idea that came too early. While it was the first downtown grocer in years, it saw mostly lunch-time traffic (the deli in particular, he said) and very little evening traffic.

"Grocery stores have very low margins and are very competitive. You can't just get daytime deli traffic. You have to get sales in the evening and sales on the weekend, and that's what was lacking at that grocery store.

There wasn't enough immediate population in the city to support that, "Kraft said.

Short summary, as store manager Charlie McKissic told Business Examiner last year, "You can't support a full grocery store on sandwiches and soup."

Now, there are several apartment and condominium buildings sprouting up around downtown Tacoma, including 165 units on the Thea Foss Waterway, 145 units between downtown and Stadium District,

100 units on Hilltop and 220 units at Point Ruston. When everything opens up and residents start swarming Tacoma streets, Kraft believes it's only a matter of time before another grocer takes a shot at it.

"You're starting to get some density in the downtown core that you didn't have before.

It might've been a little early (for Tacoma City Grocer),"he said. "I do think ultimately downtown will be able to support another grocery. I think it will demand it."

At the moment, there is no set-in-stone timeline for when Old Spaghetti Factory will close its soon-to-be former location or open up in its new location. But, the company is aiming for the end of the year.

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