One of University Boulevard's most popular sports bars is branching out into Italian and authentic Mexican food.
In March, Gentle Ben’s took over the 2-year-old Bacio Italiano on University. Weeks later, Gentle Ben’s owners Richard Fifer, Russ Moore and Jennifer Treusch leased the space that had been home for five years to The Dutch Eatery & Refuge. The Dutch Eatery & Refuge, located on the corner of University Boulevard and North Park Avenue, will soon become an open sit-down Mexican restaurant
Gentle Ben’s owners intend to keep Bacio as an Italian restaurant, though Fifer said that they are looking to add more lunch-friendly items such as salads, and some healthier, lighter options.
Bacio’s previous owner, Andrew Avella, a Staten Island native and University of Arizona graduate, said “the time was right” to sell the restaurant, which he opened in the fall of 2019.
The time was also right for Fifer of Gentle Ben’s.
“Each time we would pass by Bacio, we would make comments how beautiful the patio was. On one of these trips, Andrew had made a comment that made me think he would be interested in selling the restaurant. One thing led to another, and we made an offer that Andrew accepted,” Fifer said.
They brought on a partner, Justin Fitzsimmons, who they say has extensive knowledge of Italian fine dining. Fitzsimmons is the nephew of Daniel Scardato, who owns Vivace, an upscale Italian restaurant in the Catalina Foothills.
Bacio is one of two new ventures for Gentle Ben’s owners. Fifer said he and his partners will open Casa Agave in the old Dutch space in mid-July after they do some work on the building.
“We also brought on a partner for this location. His name is Jonah Gomes, and he has an extensive culinary background and brings a lot to the table,” Fifer said.
Avella said that the restaurant business can be hard, and the hours on his feet can be exhausting, but he left open the possibility of launching another restaurant in the future.
“Gelato, bagels, take out, something easy,” Avella said. “Need to find the right location.”
Bacio is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and Fifer said they are considering leaving the kitchen open until midnight.
*El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.
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