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Grassi's finds home and heritage in University Place

Restaurant, boutique to open after the first of the year at site of former Affairs Cafe & Bakery

Photo by Heather Perry

Ken Grassi, owner Grassi’s Flowers & Gifts and mayor of University Place, shows off the future site of his restaurant and boutique at 2811 Bridgeport Way in University Place. He’s remodeling the former Affairs Café & Bakery for his restaurant and tearing down the wall separating two office spaces in the building to make room for his boutique.

Bringing the company closer to home. That's the idea behind Grassi's move to University Place next year.

After leaving the University of Washington-Tacoma corridor and consolidating part of his business at his shop on Center Street in Tacoma, Ken Grassi, owner Grassi's Flowers & Gifts, has announced plans to open storefronts for his restaurant and boutique at 2811 Bridgeport Way in University Place next year.

The move will have him working where he is already living and serving as mayor, and, when the restaurant and boutique open after the first of the year, they'll better reflect Grassi's Italian heritage.

Renovations are under way at the future site of the restaurant, which will occupy the building formerly home to Affairs Cafe & Bakery, and at two adjoining office spaces, where the dividing wall has been torn down to make room for the fashion shop.

Both spaces are getting interior and exterior updates.

Inside the restaurant, Grassi is painting and installing new hardware, flooring, windows and doors. The greenhouse-like windows on the south side of the storefront will be replaced with flat windows and the latticework will be removed.

What used to be the truffle case at the entrance of Affairs will be a wine bar.

"It's going to have a whole fresh new look. Northwest natural real warm colors," explained Grassi. "We're going to go back to our roots, Italian."

He's adding a stone to the arch in the middle of the dining room and French doors that will open from the cafe to outdoor seating on the patio. He's also planning to bring outdoor seating to a courtyard behind his restaurant.

"My vision is to add outdoor dining in that courtyard giving it a villa-type feeling with lighting," Grassi said. "We envision it like Little Italy."

Part of this revival of heritage is an expansion of their menu.

"Downtown, we were limited because we had a real small kitchen," Grassi said, noting his new space, including the dining room, kitchen and banquet room, is more than 4,000 square feet. "We have a big kitchen. We'll bring back some customer favorites, but we'll also be doing quite a bit of Italian. We just didn't have the kitchen to do it, so now we can."

In the UW corridor, his kitchen and dining areas were about 1,000 square feet combined; he could seat 50. The new larger space can accommodate between 50 and 60 guests in the dining room and another 50 in the banquet room.

The new boutique, which set up in temporary space in the same complex on Sept. 29, will be about 1,500 square feet.

"Basically that whole space has been gutted," Grassi said of the boutique's future home. "The office-type ceiling tiles are being removed, all new walls and windows, LED track lighting system, flooring. It was gutted to the studs. All of that will be brand new."

The new space will lend a new look for the boutique as well.

"In the building we were in downtown, we were kind of Old World. Because this is all going to be new, we're going to be doing a more contemporary look. We're still in the final phase of choosing colors and flooring, but it's going to be a more contemporary-type look," Grassi said.

The shop will also have more products.

The exact opening date is still unclear, but it will be after the first of the year. It all depends on the construction schedule, Grassi said, which is likely to wrap up in December. He's planning the move for sometime in January.

Beyond University Place, Grassi had considered locating in the Proctor District.

"Because we live in UP and I work in UP, it made sense. In Proctor, we just couldn't find a space that would work," Grassi said, noting he's also excited about other developments happening in the area.

"The U.S. Open is going to be amazing in that in brings the nation's eyes on University Place. There will be hopefully increased business in University Place, but most people come by bus or by train to the event and they will leave to go back to their hotel," Grassi said. "Our decision was really based more on what University Place has done over the years. The town center is now really started to develop.

"This whole area is just ripe and ready and hungry for new restaurants and retail. We think University Place is just going to bust with retail activity in the next few years."