If you are a born and bred Memphian, odds are pretty good that you grew up eating at Pete & Sam’s. This iconic Memphis restaurant was opened in 1948 by Sam Bomarito and his cousin Pete Romeo. Unfortunately, Pete got out of the business after only six months, but Sam couldn’t afford to change the sign. So the name remained, and the rest is history. For 70 years now, it has been a beloved favorite for Memphians of all ages and walks of life.
Just before the holidays last year, the restaurant had a kitchen fire. The fire and smoke damage was so severe that the restaurant had to close. It couldn’t have come at a worse time of year as many families and groups of friends celebrate the holidays year after year over toasted ravioli, spaghetti and steaks at Pete & Sam’s. Longtime patrons were devastated with the thought that this institution might be gone forever. Customers breathed a sigh of relief when second-generation owners and brothers Sam Bomarito Jr. and Michael Bomarito announced that they would reopen. It took about six months, but Pete & Sam’s is now back and better than ever.
When you set foot in the door, there’s an almost palpable excitement in the air. People are truly delighted to have their neighborhood restaurant back. Pete & Sam’s has always been a restaurant full of laughter and good times, and regulars will be happy to see that hasn’t changed. The dining room is a happy cacophony of large families filling tables, college-age kids on dates, octogenarians engaged in gentle conversation and gatherings of friends splitting pizzas and bottles of wine. Whether you are a regular or a first-timer, odds are good that you will run into at least two or three people you know.
As part of the renovation, brothers Sam and Michael brought on two partners, Judd Tashie and Paige Lucchesi. Both are well-known for their delicious Italian food — Judd owns and operates Ciao Bella Italian Grill, and the Lucchesis have been in the Italian food business for generations. Judd and Paige are active investors, but the Bomaritos will run the day-to-day operations of the restaurant.
“With all the goodwill the Bomarito family has established over the years, I knew I had to help Pete & Sam’s get back open — plus I am crazy about Sam and Michael,” says Judd. “My strengths are helping put upgrades and new systems in place. So, my role has been to help them streamline the business to run more efficiently.”
“We had to totally gut the restaurant,” says Sam. There is new wallpaper, carpet, ceilings, artwork and renovated restrooms — an upgrade that longtime customers will appreciate! But while the renovated space feels fresh, it retains the vintage vibe that evokes nostalgia. “We wanted to keep the original old-school feel,” says Sam, “The restaurant still has a ’60s feel to it.”
Also new is a full bar. Regulars will remember that for the first 69 years, Pete & Sam’s was a BYOB joint. Now you no longer have to brown-bag it. Just behind the host stand, Sam and Michael carved out a bar and lounge that is comfy and has a charming retro feel. Martinis, a selection of wines and draft beer are all available. You can still bring your own wine to enjoy, but there is a corkage fee.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the Italian food that Memphians know and love at Pete & Sam’s. “The menu is exactly the same,” says Sam.
All the favorites are still there: Spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna, pizzas, steaks and, of course, their famous Italian spinach. SB TIP: That spinach is a side order MUST!
Sam grew up in the restaurant, and to this day, his favorites are the ravioli and the lasagna. “My go-to order was and will be forever the ‘Half and Half’,” adds Judd. It’s a generous serving of two of Pete & Sam’s signature dishes — ravioli with meat sauce and Italian spinach.
The beloved slightly — and deliciously— greasy, thin crust pizzas haven’t changed a bit. The classic BBQ pork pizza, with in-house hickory smoked pork tossed in Mr. Sam’s BBQ sauce, is just as good as ever. And, you can still get a “baby” pizza as a side order.
“I have never seen so much goodwill and excitement over a restaurant,” says Judd. “Guess that is what 70 years of good food and good experiences does for you!”