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June 4, 2019

Kirkland QFC to reopen with Tutta Bella ‘grocerant' inside

Rendering courtesy of Graham Baba Architects [enlarge]
Tutta Bella will only take about 400 square feet in the grocery store, but will share back-of-house operations with QFC.

Joe Fugere has five of his Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzerias open in Seattle and the Eastside. His sixth will be quite different — it will be a “grocerant” inside the new QFC store under construction in downtown Kirkland.

The new eatery will start serving up Italian goodies in late summer, when the 50,000-square-foot QFC opens in Ryan Companies' Kirkland Urban development.

“I don't know if there is an example of a grocerant in Seattle or the Puget Sound area,” Fugere said. “It's in other markets.”

Fugere said what made it work was the cooperation of QFC, which operates much differently than Tutta Bella, and both companies' flexibility to work with each other.

“They totally get it. We could not have done this without their understanding and belief in us,” he said.

Tutta Bella will only take about 400 square feet in the grocery store, but it will share back-of-house operations with QFC's deli and other food service offerings. It will be near an in-store brew-pub and one of the building's two main entrances.

Tutta Bella and QFC worked out a deal that combines the shared space and revenue sharing. Details were not available.

They also are sharing Woodman Construction as their general contractor. Additionally, Tutta Bella is using Bargreen Ellingson for restaurant equipment. Graham Baba is the architect.

Fugere said the restaurant space is designed to capture the Tutta Bella experience in a smaller footprint while honoring 300 years of Neapolitan tradition. To that notion, it will blend modern space with a traditional Italian wood-fired pizza oven on full display.

“We might be the first Italian wood-fired oven in a grocery store in the U.S.,” Fugere said.

Installing the oven was a challenge: it weighs 2,500 pounds and needed a special exhaust system that cleans the wood smoke and turns it into steam. The oven was made and imported from Italy by Forza Forni of New York City.

Like the ovens at the other Tutta Bella locations, this one was blessed by a Catholic priest and named after a family member or friend. Fugere said this oven is called “Antonio” — his brother's middle name.

“It's pretty common when you open a business in Italy that a priest comes in and blesses it,” he said.

Operating the grocerant will be somewhat of a learning experience. Fugere said it's difficult to predict how many customers will spill over from the store versus those coming just to eat.

“We're going to be prepared for high volume and we'll see where it settles,” he said.

The grocerant's menu will have the six most popular pizzas from Tutta Bella's menu, plus salads, tiramisu and made-to-order cannoli bars. There also will be something not found in the other restaurants: a line of sandwiches made to order with Italian ingredients.

Fugere said the sandwiches could end up at the other restaurants.

If the compact grocerant is popular, the concept could be extended to kiosks and airports.

“This is kind of a laboratory for Tutta Bella,” he said.

There are no plans to build another Tutta Bella inside a grocery, but Fugere said he would like to.

The last Tutta Bella opened in 2014 in Bellevue. Fugere said they are looking at locations to the south, north and east of Seattle for future expansion.

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