TDS 26 Ron Bonanno Remembers His Dad And Bamie's Pizza On Des Moines' Southside
What’s not to love about a friend you can count on, especially when they feed you delicious food? Long-standing restaurants become a friend in and of themselves, the friendly neighbors appreciated for the tasty comfort made to order. Those eateries remind us of our past, of times we took a hard-earned break to eat favorite dishes, and the familiar spaces where we celebrate milestone events in our lives. Family-owned restaurants are especially treasured for the heartfelt tenacity they serve up, too.
This week on #thedelciousstory I speak with Ron Bonanno, son of Frank Bonanno (also known as Bamie) who was the energy behind the popular and still-remembered restaurant Bamie’s Pizza on Des Moines’ south side. Ron shares an insider’s look at what it took to run the business for 23 years, his dad’s unusual take on customer service, and how the family functioned within and around the all-consuming family-owned endeavor.
FIRST THERE WAS THE FOOD—AND THE WORK
I never had the chance to eat at Bamie’s during its years of operation from 1963 to 1986, but I heard about Frank’s antics from those who ate at his restaurant. He always had his own sort of show at the ready for his customers, with props including rubber chickens, fire extinguishers and a trombone that sported a boxing glove. He had a flair for comedic timing, teasing and prodding patrons who were (usually) delighted by the theatrics. Ron relates some anecdotes and talks about what drove his dad to be a “larger-than-life” personality.
Beyond the stage presence of Bamie himself, there was the food. Ron explains what went into the signature pizza with its sauce and crust that Bamie perfected, and in this interview we also get a tour of the back-of-house process required to bring all the ingredients together—for the pizza and other favorites like the Stromboli sandwiches.
Did I mention the work? Ron details the labor involved in keeping the restaurant in operation each day. While Bamie shined with his frivolity, making it all appear fun and easy, behind the stage was a determined man and his family, all of whom kept to a grueling schedule. Given the daily requirements of the business, it’s hard to fathom how the family found time for school, sports and other activities.
To keep it all running required everyone in the Bonanno family to pull their weight, so when Bamie suffered his first heart attack you can imagine how it all came to a crashing halt. Ron relates the story of how family and friends rallied when Bamie needed time to recover, and how his ongoing pace both helped and hurt his health overall.
Because Bamie’s Pizza was a city institution, famous people periodically visited. Ron tells a few stories about the paparazzi who graced the door of the restaurant over the years. And not-so-widely known was the restaurant’s role as the place where John Karras and Donald Kaul drafted their ideas for the first RAGBRAI, which became the world’s longest, largest and oldest recreational bicycle touring event.
With all the toil during the year, I was grateful to learn that the Bonannos took every August off to close the restaurant and climb into their RV for rest and recreation. You’ll get a sense of the fun and adventure of those summer trips and the strong family ties that made working together the rest of the year possible.
A LEGACY STORY
Bamie’s was forced to close its doors due to the city’s airport expansion in 1986. Ron talks about the impact of that decision and why Bamie didn’t open a new restaurant thereafter. It remains a testament that the family stuck together to work the business for as long as it was opened.
As a striving entrepreneur, I’m impressed when anyone builds a business that sustains them and their family. And when that venture impacts so many lives and is remembered fondly years later, that is a true measure of success.
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Sherry is the founder of Storied Gifts a personal publishing service of family and company histories. She and her team help clients curate and craft their stories into books. When not writing or interviewing, Sherry spends loads of time with her grandchildren and lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
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