Gasperetti edit

John Gasperetti, dressed as Freddie Mercury, walks through the audience during the first performance of Gasperetti's Cabaret of the holiday season at Gasperetti's Gourmet Restaurant on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Yakima, Wash. Gasperetti made special guest appearances as Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner and Michael Jackson in past years. (Evan Abell, Yakima Herald-Republic file)

For 54 years, Gasperetti’s Gourmet Restaurant was an absolute institution in Yakima. Of all places.

With help and encouragement from his family and friends, John Gasperetti — born into a family of restaurateurs — opened his namesake upscale eatery in 1966 on North First Street. Yakima was and is a relatively blue-collar city, but the fine-dining restaurant took root, grew, prospered and put lil ol’ Yakima on the culinary map.

A president and first lady dined there, as did actors, authors, singers and other personalities. On Gasperetti’s Facebook page, you’ll find a 1995 autographed publicity photo of country music star Kenny Chesney. “John, this was the best meal I’ve had on tour!” Chesney wrote.

Alas, the victim of a two-headed monster that is likely to to wreak havoc on the business community in Yakima for some time to come, Gasperetti and his crew have formally served the last helping of Dungeness Crabmeat Canneloni and in-season Deep-Fried Asparagus. “It is with a heavy heart that I announce that Gasperetti’s Restaurant, after a 54-year run, is closed,” he wrote recently on his Facebook page.

It would not be a surprise to see black armbands adorning the scores of loyal Gasperetti’s clients. What’s definitely not a surprise is the reasoning Gasperetti gave for his decision to shut things down: ongoing economic issues tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the homelessness and crime that plague the stretch of First Street where he took over an old doughnut shop at age 24.

Hoping to revitalize the area by way of beauty, improved traffic and pedestrian safety, the city began a three-phase redevelopment project last year. But the passage of Initiative 976 last fall eliminated the collection of an extra car tab fee for Yakima drivers and effectively dried up the project’s funding.

“The last few years have been tough with the continual deterioration of North First Street,” Gasperetti wrote, adding that an increasing homeless population combined with the virus helped him make the tough call to close.

The decision is sad, yet understandable. Of course, nobody takes homelessness lightly, but the issue becomes even more of an eye-opener when the proprietor of a 54-year-old restaurant cites it as one of the reasons that there won’t be a 55th year.

Meanwhile, we fervently hope that John, his longtime chef (and husband) Brad Patterson and others in the Gasperetti’s Gourmet Restaurant family will stick around, remain a vibrant part of our community, and continue the catering arm of the business. Based on Gasperetti’s post, it sounds like he’s not done with Yakima just yet, and for that we rejoice.

“For the future? I have a few opportunities in the works, but for now I leave … to relax and reflect with sadness and joy. Stay tuned! As the old saying goes, ‘When one door closes, another door opens up,’” he wrote.

“So until then, I say to you, the people of Yakima … Thank you!”

You’re more than welcome, John. And thank you.

Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Bruce Drysdale.