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Made in Tacoma

Son of Stan, brother of Gordon, Steve Naccarato has had his hand, and heart, in just about everything 253

STEVE NACCARATO: He is the keeper of the beloved 253 Heart. Photo credit: Patrick Snapp

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It doesn't matter how many folks fill the booths and tables of the Tempest Lounge as I walk in to meet Steve Naccarato, he's the first person I notice. Even while seated at a dark corner table, Naccarato stands out in the crowd in a James-Bond-nowhere-to-hide kind of way. With his coolly unkempt hair, his hip hoodie with the acronym FAYM (you can try Googling that acronym, but it's more fun to use your imagination) and his pin-up-gorgeous girlfriend Jooley Heaps at his side, I assume Naccarato is ordering his drinks shaken, not stirred. On closer inspection, they're PBR tall boys. Still, you can tell this guy's up to something the minute you lay eyes on him.

Up to a lot of things, it seems.

"I'm what you call a serial entrepreneur," says Naccarato. 

No kidding. Naccarato seems to have had his hands in just about everything over the years: baseball, acting, consulting on a primetime television show, real estate, working for a technology company, opening restaurants, producing records, letterpress artistry, photography and now, as the proud "keeper" of Daniel Blue's iconic 253 Heart logo, Naccarato is a fully emerged professional butterfly.

"Sometimes I envy people who have known what they want to do their whole lives, but I just can't be that way," Naccarato says. "I love trying new things. I love the process."

Luckily for Tacoma, a lot of those things are taking place right here. A graduate of Stadium High School, Naccarato was the son of the man many called "Mr. Tacoma," Stan Naccarato. Naccarato Senior, it seems, played for the Cincinnati Reds until a torn rotator cuff sent him back to his hometown where he played a major role in the inception of the Tacoma Dome. And, like Naccarato Junior, he took on several other roles including selling radio ads, running a shoe store, managing radio stations, baseball teams ... the list goes on. And marketing - he was a natural when it came to slogans.

"You've heard them say ‘a dome of our own‘? That's when they were pushing for the Tacoma Dome. That was my dad." Naccarato says, "‘Cars cost less in Puyallup‘?  That was my dad too. They still use that one."

Stan Naccarato's love for Tacoma ran so deep that even when he was approached with offers to work for teams like the Mariners and the Yankees, he refused to leave.

"I guess that kind of love rubs off on you," says Naccarato.

Apparently it rubbed off not only on Steve, but on his brother Gordon, who had opened a restaurant in Aspen, Colo., but returned to Tacoma to join Steve in opening a classy spot called The Beach House.

"The deal was, if Gordon and I were ever in the same city, we had to open a restaurant together," Naccarato says.

In almost unheard of instant success, the News Tribune named The Beach House the "Best Restaurant in Puget Sound" within a year of it opening.

"It was wonderful to see it come together. From the wait staff all the way to the investors, everyone was working toward achievement. It was magical," continues Naccarato.

The magic lasted about five years, at which point the brothers decided to open the Pacific Grill on Pacific Avenue, a restaurant that holds a special place in Naccarato's heart. "For my money, the Pacific Grill is the best dining experience in Tacoma," he says.

It was about this time that a server at The Beach House took notice of some images Naccarato had been snapping in between the hustle of running one successful restaurant and opening another. She suggested he have a gallery showing.

"I guess that was when I decided I wanted to be an artist," he laughs.

It was no laughing matter when Naccarato's opening show at Oliver Doriss's Fulcrum Gallery sold a remarkable 32 pieces. Naccarato had found yet another a new passion, one that encompassed his love for process and creativity. And he was in a good place to explore that.

"That's another aspect I love about Tacoma. There is opportunity to follow a passion.  We're sort of in a constant state of starting anew here, so every day is about process," he says.

One aspect of our fair city which Naccarato does not like is the Simpson Tacoma Kraft Paper Mill, which he partially blames for Tacoma's being, as he puts it, "The most underdeveloped major city on the West Coast."

"When people are thinking about settling here, when businesses are thinking about moving here, what's the first impression they get? That baby diaper smell. We have the reputation of being a smelly blue collar town and as a result, to our detriment, we find ourselves stagnating."

Naccarato acknowledges that the mill keeps jobs in the city, but wonders how many jobs Tacoma has lost as a result of new business not moving in.

"I just have to ask, why aren't we reaching high enough, why is this smell and this bad rap we get OK? We have to raise the bar and invest, big picture, in our city."

The bad smell isn't stopping Naccarato from embarking on new ventures in Tacoma.  On March 23, Naccarato and The Camp (formerly known as Camp 6) co-founder and idea man JD Elquist opened the new Republic of 253 store, a cozy studio tucked in the alley behind Market Street and your one-stop shop for 253 Heart merch.

Jooley Heaps, who opened Poison Apple, Tacoma's "newest pop culture fun-orium," on Pacific Avenue last Friday, April 6, lights up at the mention of Republic of 253, "The Republic is where you can get it all, the jewelry, all the different styles, the different colors, it's all there and it's in a great space."

Despite Republic of 253's limited hours (Friday and Saturday, 11a.m. to 6 p.m.), Naccarato says the opening weekend went well.

"I'm just proud to be part of spreading this gift that was sort of given to the city through Daniel's hand. Proud to be keeping it alive and proud of the way it's been embraced."

According to Naccarato, the design came to musician Daniel Blue of Motopony in an almost magical way. "He was just doodling, doodling 253, and he turned the paper 90 degrees and saw that it had formed a heart."

Of all of Naccarato's endeavors, he counts working with Blue as some of his proudest moments.

"I was there with him at the beginning and we had big dreams, and seeing him create something real, having a product at the end of that creative process, it's inspiring to me."

Blue has said that the 253 Heart is about love of place, and it would seem that Naccarato was the right recipient of that torch. A fierce love of the city gleams in his eyes, though he respectfully reserves the title "Mr. Tacoma" for his father who, he says, was "a major part of the Rat Pack of Tacoma in its heyday."

Is there perhaps a Tacoma heyday revival on the horizon?

"There's a lot to offer here for a lot of different people. If we can get over this inferiority complex of ours, we can overcome these stigmas that are getting in our way."

As far as the future of Steve Naccarato? Stay tuned for his next venture, an upcoming burger joint. In Naccarato's guileless blend of humility and ambition, he says, "We'll see what happens; our goal is to make the best burger in the city."

With Naccarato's history of genie-in-a-bottle success, I'd say all the other burger joints might want to up their game.

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