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Rosellini, Victor (1915-2003), Restaurateur and Epicure

HistoryLink.org Essay 3902 : Printer-Friendly Format

Victor Rosellini founded a string of acclaimed and successful restaurants in downtown Seattle and became known as Seattle's premiere host. He opened Rosellini's 610 in 1950, and Rosellini's Four-10 in 1956. For nearly four decades, their bars and dining rooms were enclaves for the most powerful and influential people of the day, yet Rosellini maintained a reputation for treating all diners with equal elegance. It is reported that in the early 1960s, political, business, and civic leaders gathered in the bar at the Four-10 to brainstorm the idea of the Seattle World's Fair. Rosellini was active and widely known in the restaurant industry. He help found and served as first president of the Washington State Restaurant Association (1966-1967) and served as President of the National Restaurant Association (1977-1978). He won innumerable awards and sat on the boards of such civic organizations as the Seattle Symphony, United Way, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. The Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Victor Rosellini First Citizen of 1984. He died on January 9, 2003.

An Italian From Tacoma

Victor Rosellini was born to Italian American immigrants in Tacoma on May 13, 1915. His father Vittorio Rosellini came from a small town near Florence to Tacoma, established a restaurant and married Fine Gasperetti, an immigrant native of Montecatini, Italy. They had two sons, Leo, who became a prominent surgeon, and Victor, and three daughters, Emilia, Lola, and Marie.

This family from such humble beginnings was to become one of the most influential in Washington state. Vittorio's older brother Giovanni was the first to immigrate to Tacoma, which he did during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s. Giovanni was the father of Albert D. Rosellini (b. 1910), Washington's governor from 1957 to 1965. (The influential lawyer and State Supreme Court justice Hugh Rosellini is frequently, but erroneously, described as related.)

Apprentice to a Master Cook

When Victor's father Vittorio died in 1928, Victor and his mother moved to San Francisco where he helped his mother run a tiny Italian place under the Twin Peaks called the Tunnel Restaurant. He later attributed his success to her in those years. "She taught me her perfectionism in her cooking and in serving food beautifully displayed" (de Groot).

Fine Rosellini returned to Seattle in 1932 and married Louis Pettofrezzo. Known as "Louis Fritz," he and Fine owned and operated the Roma Cafe at 310 Main Street. Victor worked there as busboy, waiter, and captain before returning to San Francisco in 1936 for a job at the famous Bimbo's 365 Club (at 365 Market Street) owned by his sister Emilia's husband, Agostino "Bimbo" Giuntoli. Rosellini worked in all capacities in the "front of the house," waiter, captain, head waiter, bar manager, food and beverage manager. He learned the trade in this spacious glamorous depression-era nightclub with long-stemmed chorus girls such as Rita Hayworth kicking to big band orchestras.

Liquor by the drink became legal in 1949, which took cocktails out of private clubs and illegal venues and spelled the beginning of modern restaurant era in Washington state.

No Place to Dine in Seattle

"Seattle," Peter Canlis told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1975, "was known as the worst restaurant town in America. We had a lot of eating places then, but few dining places" (Brewster).

In 1950, Rosellini and his chef brother-in-law John Pogetti, partnered in Victor's 610, at 610 Pine Street. Peter Canlis's Canlis Restaurant on Aurora Avenue opened almost simultaneously. Thus began a new generation of restaurateurs such as Rosellini, Trader Vic, Peter Canlis, John Franco (of Franko's Hidden Harbor), and Jim Ward (of El Gaucho).

Rosellini's Round Table

The 610's center-stage round table was the prime spot for a regular crowd, many of whom were or would become the movers and shakers in Seattle business and politics.

Rosellini's Four-10 opened in 1956, in the White-Henry-Stuart Building at 410 University (across from the Olympic Hotel) a bold venture that was, as Seattle newspaper pundit Emmett Watson described it "an American-continental restaurant that determinedly set out for the so-called carriage trade." It was replete with tuxedoed waiters, starchy white napery, heavy silver serving pieces, and flaming table-side cookery.

Leaving the 610 to the management of Poggetti and Al Bredice, Rosellini presided over the posher Four-10 with a style learned in San Francisco and perfected over years in downtown Seattle.

Despite the fact that Victor's cousin, Albert D. Rosellini (1910-2011), a Democrat, was governor for the first eight years of the Four-10's existence, Victor's restaurant won a non-partisan reputation. "I got identified with Al and Democratic politics, and at the Four-10 what I was after was acceptance from the Republican downtown establishment," he said. "I had to have their business, they were a long time coming around" (Watson).

Rosellini's formula of energetic downtown civic involvement -- luxurious service of luxury food and the very personal handling of his clientele -- won them over. Emmett Watson wrote: "[Rosellini] developed his name-face gifts almost to the point of instinct -- a survival device nearly as complicated as the returning salmon which knows the right river among thousands."

Political rivals were seated out of earshot, regulars (notables or not) had customary tables usually in the corners where the best waiters were assigned. Pretty girls were seated in the middle of the room where everyone could see them.

Seattle Times former editor Richard Larsen described The Four-10 as "a sort of Algonquin Northwest, where political minds flourished and great thoughts flowered."

Rosellini and Poggetti sold the 610 in 1972.

The Family Tradition

Rosellini's son Robert Rosellini trained at the Merchant Marine Academy at King's Point, New York, and sailed as an officer. After some years, he decided to follow in the family tradition and asked his father set up contacts for him to work professionally in the kitchens and butcher shops of Switzerland and to learn wines by traveling the vineyards of Europe. In 1974, under the aegis of the family corporation, Rosellini's Restaurants, he opened Rosellini's Other Place, a French restaurant at 319 Union Street that was highly successful and nationally acclaimed. It was forced to close in 1986 for a building remodeling.

In 1975, the White-Henry Stuart Building was to be torn down for the Rainier Square development and the Four-10 moved to a new and larger location at 4th Avenue and Wall Street in the Denny Regrade. Rosellini brought many of his old staff with him, kept his influential clientele, and flourished until it closed in 1989 when the building was sold to make room for an apartment/retail complex.

In 1984, The Seattle-King County Association of Realtors awarded Victor Rosellini the First Citizen of the Year Award. Rosellini was honored for "his more than 30 years of contributions to the arts, health care, education, cultural activities and youth work. He was vice chairman of the Century 21 Commission for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. He served on the boards of St. Francis Cabrini Hospital, the March of Dimes, United Cerebral Palsy, National Diabetes Association, Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Greater Seattle, Inc., Pacific Northwest Trade Association, Washington State University's Seattle Center for Hotel and Restaurant Administration, Kiwanis Spastic Committee, and Boy's Club of Seattle."

Rosellini tried his hand at partial retirement and a small catering business, but couldn't stand it. He entered into a partnership with longtime restaurateur, Mick McHugh to open Rosellini & McHugh's Nine-10 at 910 2nd Avenue in the downtown financial district. The venture proved unsuccessful and closed in 1994.

Victor Rosellini then "retired" to a life of catering and other charitable work for non-profits long dear to his heart. He adopted and helped raise his wife Marcia's sons from a previous marriage, Eugene (1942-1991) and Robert (b. 1945).

Victor Rosellini died in Seattle on January 9, 2003.

Sources:
Emmett Watson, "Victor Rosellini Has Made a Business of Feeding Seattle," Seattle Post Intelligencer, April 16,1972; Roy Andries De Groot, "Dining With De Groot," The Seattle Times, October 31,1975; Richard W. Larsen, "Can There Be Life After the Four-10?" The Seattle Times, December 25, 1988; Robert Heilman, "A Surgeon, a Politician, a Restaurateur and a Justice," The Seattle Times, October 29, 1978; David Brewster, "Victor Rosellini: Fifty Years Over a Hot Stove," Seattle Post Intelligencer, November 30, 1975; Michael Hood Interviews with Marcia and Robert Rosellini, July 2002, Seattle, Washington; Jane Hadley, "Victor Rosellini (1915-2003)," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 11, 3003 (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com); Seattle-King County Association of Realtors website accessed December 31, 2004 (www.nwrealator.com).
Note: This essay was updated on January 15, 2003, and again on January 1, 2005.


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Victor Rosellini (1915-2003), ca. 1960
Courtesy Marcia Rosellini


Ad for Rosellini's Restaurant, August 1954
Courtesy The Seattle Greeter


Marcia Rosellini, ca. 1950
Courtest Marcia Rosellini


Cousins Victor (left) and Albert Rosellini, ca. 1960.
Courtesy Marcia Rosellini


 
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