One of the many things I loved about living on Renton Hill from 2000 to 2008 was walking or biking up and down that great hill nearly everyday.
Renton Hill boasts a phenomenal view of Renton, Lake Washington and all the way to downtown Seattle. On these Renton Hill walks I always had a babe on my back or in a stroller (or both). It was a time for me to enjoy the varying seasons, the incredible view and ponder the universe, all the while keeping an eye out for a pesky forest-green Audi.
Imagine the shrillest German-engineered, efficient car horn you’ve ever heard, now times that by 20. The kind of honk you anticipate and prepare for but still somehow when it comes, as it always did, and you still nearly jump out of your skin.
And there, like the big brother I never had, was Armondo Pavone, owner of the Melrose Grill and the now-closed Armondo’s, wearing a mischievous grin with accompanying wave out the window.
The funny thing about a consistently annoying big brother is you get used to them being around, as I did.
But I no longer live on Renton Hill and since Armondo’s restaurant went out of business, I can’t believe I’m saying this but, “Where’s Armondo?”
I found him the other day at Melrose Grill.
I was waiting for Armondo in the lobby and I couldn’t help gawking at dinner guests “oohing” and “ahhing” my mouth watering as thick, perfectly grilled steaks and gigantic lobster tales were being delivered to a large party.
In addition to owning and operating Armondo’s for 21 years, Pavone co-owns the very popular Melrose Grill. In 2008 Pavone and his wife Angela took on a partner, Grill Chef Franco Phillips.
Phillips worked at Armondo’s 15 years ago as a dishwasher and went on to gain a local reputation as a “stud grill master.”
“I ran into Franco’s mom,” Armondo said as we sat down at a table, “and got his phone number. I wanted to hire him to run the grill. He didn’t return my call at first. Maybe he thought I wanted him to be a dishwasher,” Armondo said, and there it was the familiar mischievous grin I recognized from his rear-view mirror and those infernal honks.
Still, it was good to see Armondo. And, I was happy to hear that business at the Melrose Grill has doubled over the last year. “It’s filling a niche — date night where you’re not spending hundreds of dollars a person—we offer something special: we only seat 80 people so the atmosphere is comfortable, excellent service and amazing food.”
It had been a year since I had last seen Armondo, looking harried on the final days before Armondo’s closed it’s doors after 21 years, when no doubt everyone and their mother was coming in to say their goodbyes.
Sitting across from him at the Melrose Grill he looked well rested but still had the feisty energy as he twittered with a straw.
“I was glad to talk to you because I think people are wondering if I’m lying in a ditch somewhere,” Armondo laughed.
We talked about life after Armondo’s restaurant closed.
“People come up to me all the time and they say, “Oh,” long pause, “How ya doing?” I understand where they’re coming from, Armondo’s was a destination for a lot of years, to the community it was like a death. For me, it was the right time…the next stage of my life with my boys.”
Armondo has two young boys ages 4 and 2 and a wonderful wife, Angela.
“I gave myself permission to not do anything for a year, except spend time with my family. I intentionally fell off the map. I thought of it as a sabbatical. It’s been amazing and long overdue,” Armondo said adding, “When you have kids, your priorities change so drastically, so it made the decision to close down Armondo’s easier.”
In fact Armondo wishes he would have done it earlier. He opened Armondo’s July 1, 1985. “A 21-year run for any restaurant is not a failure. And I was ready to let it go. The responsibility of owning a business, knowing that you’re responsible for employees livelihoods was like putting on a really big back pack and not taking it off for 21 years. Letting it go was freeing.”
In addition to spending time with his family, over the last year Armondo’s been working on a custom remodel of a 1960s house in Skyway.
“I enjoy the whole aspect of construction. In the restaurant business a good day is empty cupboards and dirty dishes. I love the sense of completion.”
“But I’ll tell you one thing. I’m ready to get back into the community. It’s important to give back to the community a portion of your time, energy and money needs to go back into the community.”
I asked him what that would look like now.
“Wherever I am asked or needed,” Armondo paused. “If I had a wish, it would be something to do with kids. Now that I have kids my focus has changed. I was caring before, but now to think of kids not having a warm coat or clothes for school feels really bad to me.”
“The one thing I really do miss about Armondo’s is the regular customers. I didn’t realize how many good friends I made after 21 years that I no longer see and really miss. I do want people to know that I’m happy and completely OK with the restaurant not being open—it wasn’t a catastrophe. In the end, you go along in life and you can sit and admire the problem, dwell on it or move forward and find opportunity.”
“What’s the next opportunity?” I asked, pencil poised.
Answer: mischievous smile and, “I’m exploring my options.”
If you want to visit with Armondo yourself, come on down to IKEA where he’ll be joining me at the IKEA kitchen for episode three of my web series. He’ll be making his own kid-friendly ravioli.
Kid-friendly ravioli with Armondo Pavone
Renton restaurateur and chef Armondo Pavone will share his popular recipe for homemade cheese ravioli that he cooks for this two sons with Renton Reporter columnist Carolyn Ossorio at the IKEA kitchen in Renton 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17, as part of her Cooking with Kids web series.