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Armondo’s in Renton to close Sunday; but owner is already making plans
Armondo Pavone woke up last Saturday morning with all sorts of ideas about what to do next as a restaurateur or maybe something else in Renton, just hours after he announced he's closing Armondo's.
For sure, losing Armondo's Cafe Italiano after 25 years is a shock to its long-time customers and can't help but send shock waves through the downtown Renton economy.
"To veteran customers, it's like losing a member of your family," says Mayor Denis Law.
But, says Pavone, "going out is an OK thing." He has ideas for what he wants to do next in Renton, although he won't go into specifics yet. "It's all I know," he said of running a restaurant.
But part of the "next" is spending more time at the popular Melrose Grill across the street, of which he and his wife Angela are part owners.
He's already talking with prospective tenants about the Armondo's space, working with a well-known restaurant broker and consultant. He wants something that will complement the Melrose Grill and is a good addition to downtown Renton.
Law said he hopes Pavone will fill the space with another restaurant. He wants a lively downtown six days a week, but that will require private investment. The city, he said, will do "what we can."
"The bigger picture is the fact that we need to continue to push for the revitalization of downtown," he said.
Business has been brisk at Armondo's this week and Pavone expects that until he closes on Father's Day this Sunday, it's going to be "crazy busy."
He plans to stay open on Sunday until he runs out of food.
He's talked with customers this week about his decision to close Armondo's.
"People feel better when they see that I am not devastated," he says. This is not a funeral for Armondo's, he says. The brand is still viable and beloved, he says.
But in that weekend statement, he wrote:"I have come to the difficult conclusion that Armondo's has run its course. We have enjoyed 25 wonderful years and I believe it is best for us to close."
Pavone opened Armondo's Cafe Italiano in 1986 on South Third Street downtown, developing signature dishes in classic American-Italian style. About six years ago, he moved to the larger space on Wells Avenue and Houser Way.
He has 4,000 square feet of space and seating for 150 people.
But the move came before the recession hit and nightlife scene in South King County become crowded with new restaurants, including at expanded Westfield Shopping Center at Southcenter and at The Landing.So, the challenge become to get customers in those chairs. He didn't want to leave any stone unturned in making that happen.
In 2010 Pavone introduced a contemporary Italian menu and brought in Chef Tom Small, who specialized in fresh seasonal ingredients.
But the restaurant size was the issue. He wouldn't be making this same decision if he had been at the smaller restaurant on South Third. He expects to see more restaurants to close in the area, too.
"We are not failing financially," he said of Armondo's. "I don't want to get to that point."He didn't want to put his restaurant through a "slow, painful and ugly death."
He's already finding jobs for his 20 or so employees, including at the Melrose and at other restaurants in the Renton area. Chef Small has leads, too. "He won't be on the market long," Pavone said.
Pavone's not quite sure how he will feel after the last meal is served at Armondo's. "It hard to tell," he said. "There will be a part of me that will be sad."
He did get nostalgic when he composed the letter announcing his restaurant's closure. As far as the future?
"I am excited about it," he said.