Il Rosso Italiane’s customers are flocking to its new home at Heritage Square, where Bob Verderame is grinding away in his new kitchen next to Cuvee 928.
It all started with food. And you could also say a dream.
For years, Verderame had a vision about a pizzeria in Flagstaff that was more than just pizza — all while he was laying down ink on body parts at Tat-Fu Tattoo, which he opened in 2001.
In July of 2014, he got his chance. With a handshake from a local property owner he says “didn’t know him from Jack” but who recognized his passion for food, Il Rosso Italiane was born. For close to two years Verderame built up a small business and sense of place that amassed what has been likened to a “cult-like” following, all in the name of excellent Italian food.
Then, as quick as it took off, the lease was unexpectedly terminated to make way for the Marriott hotel now sitting on the corner of Humphreys and Aspen Avenue.
After getting the boot from his old location, Verderame wasn’t left with much. He had sunk everything he had into it.
Ask Verderame about the re-emergence of Il Rosso and he’ll tell you, “It almost didn’t happen -- it came really close to me just giving up.”
But, as Flagstaff does, he was picked up. Tyler Christensen moved to town from Phoenix in 2013 to open SoSoBa and eventually The Commerce, and that gave Verderame a spot to continue his craft in the form of pop-up Mondays. The only catch was he didn’t have his oven.
“Him [Christensen] allowing me to do my pop-ups on Mondays, we did that for 10 months every Monday, and not only did he keep Il Rosso on the street, it kept me engaged,” Verderame says. “It kept me feeling like people wanted Il Rosso, and it was worth the extra work to make that happen.”
During those 10 months, Verderame started tracking down a new, full-on location that Il Rosso could fill. Because the nitty-gritty details are many, let’s just say there was a ton of back and forth between multiple parties over the course of six months.
Ultimately, just as the future of Il Rosso started looking grim, a deal was worked out that allowed Verderame to occupy one half of Cuvee 928’s prime, downtown real estate.
“I feel like everything that happened here happened for a reason, starting with being kicked out of my original location,” Verderame said.
The new dream is to take the old hole-in-the-wall space and create more of a full-service restaurant, adding more entrees, appetizers, desserts and a full bar. Dan Hernandez, Verderame’s new partner and co-owner, will oversee the bar while Verderame maintains the quality and consistency of the food. And with all the changes also comes a new name: Il Rosso’s Pizzeria & Bar.
“I’m really happy. Everything is falling into place and everything is coming together as good as I could’ve ever dreamed it to happen. This is my dream location, my dream kitchen. I feel like we’re the right business for this spot,” Verderame says. “I’m planning on being here for a long time. Really, my plan is to take Il Rosso to the next level.”
From start to finish, Verderame’s hands are on every aspect of his business and culinary creations.
The lineage of his food follows a classic story of a family that went from Italy to New Jersey, and brought with them those family recipes.
“I’ve combined my experience with my family’s recipe to create my own style,” he says. “The [red] gravy started out as my grandmother’s, then it went to my mom, then it went to me.” But the cheesecake is another story. He adds, laughing, “The cheesecake is my grandfather’s recipe; you do not touch that.”
Verderame’s second and third passions, cycling and music, also factor in heavily to the passion for his business. An avid biker and competitor himself, race bibs and jerseys adorn the restaurant’s walls, as well as photos taken during a trip to Italy where he followed a three-week bike race. As for the music, you can hear it flowing through the speakers at all hours of the day, from Frank Sinatra to old-school hip-hop to the Dead Kennedys. And like the food, his love for music stems from family.
“A part of my growing up with my grandparents and cooking involved listening to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin,” Verderame says. “If there’s no music here, it doesn’t feel like Il Rosso.”
That passion is shared by Il Rosso’s loyal following.
“People are just as passionate about how my food tastes and the experience they have here as I am about cooking food and providing the experience,” he says. “It goes hand-in-hand. I want it to feel like home.”
And a good home it is. In the months since re-opening, Verderame has seen most of his regulars come through the door at least once, 90 percent of whom are community members or friends. He also notes that because of the new location, a lot of new customers are checking it out.
As for the Marriott episode, Verderame says, “I’ve moved on. What I’m trying to do now is capitalize off of that.”
“I’m in here all day, every day, and I’m not looking for anybody to say ‘thank you’,” Verderame says. “I’m just looking for a big smile on your face after you have my food.”
Also, he’ll tell you, “They can’t kick me out!”
And because of that, he, too, has a big smile on his face.