Pete & Sam’s reopens after fire, continuing 70-year restaurant tradition

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A landmark East Memphis Italian restaurant is back open after a fire, and the family who owns it says they're ready to begin feeding another generation of Memphis families.

Pete & Sam's on Park Avenue reopened Monday, five months after a fire forced the 70-year-old institution to close its doors for repairs.

Regulars who'd been coming for decades were heartbroken at the closure, but the Bomarito family, which has owned Pete & Sam's for all those years, says they've put well over $1 million into reopening the family business.

"These new renovations and this new building and bar, we are geared up for another 25 years of Pete & Sam's," Michael Bomarito said.

The Legacy

Pete and Sam's was started by Sam Bomarito and his cousin Pete Romero soon after Sam was discharged from the Army Air Corps in 1948.

"The backbone of this business for over 70 years has always been family," Bomarito said.

Sam had worked for an uncle's eatery and was inspired by his mother, who he watched prepare food for the family.

Romero decided to move on from the restaurant business but Sam decided to stick with it.  Sam didn't have the money to change the name of the restaurant so he kept it.

Pete and Sam's is a traditional Italian restaurant. They make homemade ravioli, lasagna and, of course, pizza.

Bomarito said that the recipes they make today are the same since Day One.

"We have menus on our wall that are 45 years old, and if you compare that one to our current one they are almost identical," Bomarito said.

Bomarito said his father loved his work and got to sit at the counter with a smile on his face to greet his "family" for nearly 70 years.

"He never felt bad coming into work, because it wasn't work," Bomarito said. "He got to see all his friends and his customers, they were like family to him. "

A possible end

In the early morning of Dec. 12, fire crews were called to a fire at Pete & Sam's.

Bomarito said an oven was left on, causing damage in the kitchen and throughout the restaurant.

The damage meant Pete & Sam's had to close its doors for a few months for only the second time.

Local patrons said they were "heartbroken" at the news.

The fire was nearly identical to the one that closed the restaurant for a few months in 1999.

But Bomarito said owning and running the family business is "in his blood," so the Bomarito brothers went to work on reopening their father's legacy.

New beginnings

On Monday, Pete & Sam's opened its doors and began taking reservations again.

The new renovations include new booths and upholstery, an expanded dining area that seats 280 people, a brand-new bar and lounge area and a handicap-accessible bathroom.

Kevin Perkins, who came by Tuesday, said he'd been going to Pete & Sam's since he was a kid.

"You know I'm 57, almost 58 years old, and I guess I've been coming here since I was, I don't know, 5 or 6 years old," Perkins said. "So I'll be coming here as long as they are open."

For his family, it has become a tradition to go to Pete & Sam's for every birthday.

And for the Bomarito family, the backbone for their business has always been families.

"We're on about our fourth generation of feeding local families," Bomarito said.