5 Star Story: Pete & Sam’s

Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 11:18 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Seventy-five years is a long time for any business to be in operation, but when it comes to the restaurant industry, 75 years is a true testament to resiliency.

And for the brothers behind Pete and Sam’s Famous Italian Restaurant, it’s also an enduring family legacy which is why the Italian eatery is the subject of this week’s 5 Star Story.

“We’ve been making barbecue pizza for close to 70 years now,” Sam Bomarito said.

And that’s almost how long the co-owners’ family have been filling Memphians’ tummies with traditional Italian cuisine.

Sam and Michael Bomarito’s father Sam opened Pete and Sam’s after a stint in the Army Air Corp.

“(19)48, My father, unemployed at the time, he was trying to find something to do. He teamed up with his cousin, my cousin Pete Romeo (and) opened up a restaurant,” Michael Bomarito explained.

The original Pete and Sam.
The original Pete and Sam.(Action News 5)

But the Bomarito brothers said their cousin got out of the business after only six months.

“Pete Romeo came from Chicago. He’s like, ‘Sam, this town is dead. I can’t handle it, going back to Chicago.’ Got his $2-3,000 investment back. Pete went back,” is how Michael told the story.

However, the Pete and Sam’s sign remained.

“Sam kept it going. (He) didn’t have the money to change the sign so it stayed Pete and Sam’s,” the brothers recalled.

The first restaurant was near the airport and grew from there, moving into the current location on Park Avenue in 1960. According to Sam, it’s a true family business.

“We grew up kind of restaurant rats. We ran around quite a bit in the restaurant. Whether it was out front in the dishwasher area or getting in the way in the kitchen or taking money out front in the old days with the cash register,” he chuckled, while Michael recalled one of his own memories: “You got a front counter up there. I used to sleep in that thing. He would be here 2-3 in the morning. I’d be eight or nine years old.”

The brothers also learned not only how to run a restaurant, but also how to make it successful.

“Goes back to quality and consistency,” Sam said. “That was one of my dad’s always mottos was ‘consistency is a habit.’ He developed a relationship with his customers. They would have families, their kids would come in, they would have families, and they’d bring their kids in...so it just built from that.”

Some of those relationships included famous diners, like Elvis, who the brothers said was a regular.

“My uncle would go to Graceland and play racquetball with Elvis,” said Michael.

The food served at Pete and Sam’s includes Italian recipes passed down from generation to generation like spaghetti, lasagna, Italian spinach and more.

Pete & Sam's has been serving up Italian food for 75 years.
Pete & Sam's has been serving up Italian food for 75 years.(Action News 5)

“We make our own ravioli in-house. We have a machine that we bought about close to 40 years ago,” Sam explained.

The menu also includes a variety of traditional American favorites, like seafood, steaks and even fried chicken, which the brothers feel assured Mid-South wrestling legend Jerry Lawler loves and will vouch for.

The brothers have added newer, more modern items to the menu, but they say some things will never change.

“Our menu from today is pretty much the same menu from the 50s. So it’s not broke, we’re not gonna fix it,” Michael promised.

One of Pete and Sam’s more famous menu items is the barbecue pizza.

“We smoke all of our barbecue in-house for about 12 hours. We put it on at night before we leave, and let it cook until 10 or 12 o’clock the next day,” Sam proudly explained.

And for good reason--that Memphis favorite has also been featured on the Food Network’s “Food Paradise” and “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”

Pete & Sam's has been serving up Italian food for 75 years.
Pete & Sam's has been serving up Italian food for 75 years.(Action News 5)

And after being graced with a slice of my own I can attest it’s a delightful blend of smokiness, cheese and tender pork! The brothers Bomarito also take pride in making sure everything is freshly made in their kitchen, from rolling their own meatballs to making their own sauces.

“Very prideful of it,” Michael said. “My father started this a long time ago. He loved it. I worked with him. I had the privilege of working with him. I saw the love that he put in this place and that’s what we’re trying to continue on.”

“We all love the restaurant business,” Sam said. “My brother’s in it and we have a lot of family still working here and we enjoy it. We have a long-standing relationship with a lot of families and multi-generations. We have several families that have 4 generations that have been dining with us.”

Pete & Sam’s is a true Memphis family tradition that makes us proud to see and eat! Incidentally, the Bomarito brothers say their father once owned seven Pete & Sam’s locations, including one in Nashville, during the early years of the family business.

The last-standing Park Avenue location is open seven days a week and has a party room that can accommodate up to 100 people for special occasions.

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