Pat Ferraro and Ferarro’s Restaurant in the Spokane Valley

The first time I met Pat Ferraro was the night he opened his Italian restaurant on Sprague 15 months ago. He was out back taking a quick break , “I sure hope I’m doing the right thing,” he said, referring to investing much of what he had accumulated during his 41 years in the business to open the place he had long dreamed about. I told him I was sure he had, but I knew only time would tell, and so I said I would come back later on to get his story and find out if his gamble would pay off.
As I learned during a recent interview at  Ferraro’s , Pat did do the right thing and his story made it a foregone conclusion. His life dream of running an Italian restaurant was built on years of hard work doing what he loved, believing in himself  and the idea that if  you apply yourself at what you are passionate about the rewards will follow.
“It sounds like a fairy tale but it’s the truth,” he said in his straight forward, open manner as he began talking about his path from southern Italy to running his fourth eating establishment. “We were very poor and we didn’t know the language when we came here. All we knew how to do was work, work, work. There was no social assistance for us back then.”
Thirteen is an awkward age to move to a new school even if a kid knows the culture and language. Pat had neither of those advantages. ” I didn’t say a word for two years,” he said  ” It was easy to work as much as I did because in the beginning I didn’t have no friends.”
Before school Pat would ride his bike 3 miles to clean the Dairy Freeze in the Gonzaga district for Ray Marteri, a friend of the family.  After school he painted houses with his father. All told, he worked 30 hours a week but managed to get through high school. ” It was a struggle but I made it,” he said in slightly broken English and Italian accent. “I tried college for about two months, but they talked too fast for me.”
After a 6-month stint at EZ Loader, Pat wanted to get back to what he learned from Ray. “He gave me an enthusiasm for cooking hamburgers and he showed me I could run my own place,” Pat said, explaining that he was able to buy a small hamburger joint called Pakies at age 19. “I love to cook hamburgers and that’s what I wanted to do.”
He was only there a few years when the owner of Dunkin’ Doughnuts at Garland and Division approached him with a proposition. “I used to go there and the old man that owned the place said I should buy it from him but I said I had no money,” Pat said. “He said you’ll find a way if you really want it. I thought and I thought about it and I thought maybe my Dad would put up his house as collateral. After he got mad and yelled and stuff, he put up his house for me. I paid the loan off in a year.”
“My idea was to make it more of a hamburger place but the doughnuts over powered the hamburgers,” he said, adding that Ferraro’s Doughnuts became a staple on the Northside. For several years he showed up early in the morning to make the doughnuts by hand from scratch and prepare the shop for opening. But in time, as he and his wife began to raise their family of three children, the demands of  tending to the shop began to wear on him.
“I would see these guys who would take their families on vacation and we never got that,” he said. “We would go camping but it was only overnight. I couldn’t be away more than that.” So around 1981, Pat sold the business and went to work as a laborer for a local heating company.
Though he was the low man on the totem pole, Pat would lecture the men he worked with about their bad attitude.  “I told them don’t blame the boss, blame yourself. They didn’t see that they were there to make the boss money,” he said. “I told them to think of it as their business and the raises and rewards would follow. They told me to slow down so they could get overtime.”
It was an awakening time in Pat’s life. “I was mixed up thinking I had no skills. I remember driving down Sprague when it hit me that I was a business man and that’s a skill. I started saying over and over to myself, ‘I’m a business man, I’m a business man.”
“I had sold the doughnut shop for $20,000 and a year later I bought it back for $30,000. That’s how bad I wanted back in,” he said. “Once I knew who I was and what I wanted to do, there was no turning back.”
Three years later, in 1985, the Steer Inn, a longtime burger stand on Division, came up for sale and Pat mustered all his resources and bought it.  With his brother at the doughnut shop, Pat worked the Steer Inn
cooking hamburgers, doing the janitorial work and whatever it took. And so for years he ran both businesses and raised his family but he wanted someday to open an Italian restaurant where he could prepare the food he was raised on and learned to cook from his mother.
“My mom taught me to cook and she was a great cook,” he said. ” But with her it was always a little of this and a little of that and so for ten years before I opened this place I worked at preparing large meals for our family and getting all of her recipes down right.”  “Everybody would say you should open an Italian restaurant but I didn’t have the money,” he said. “People think when you open a place you must be rich. But they don’t know. You have to put up everything to get into a place.” And that’s where the gamble comes in, but with the years of experience and preparation Pat has hedged his bets along with huge portions of passion and daily hard work.
Seven days a week Pat goes in hours before opening and makes all the sauces from scratch the way his mother taught him. For example, he uses an expensive tomato sauce that is cooked at 150 degrees. “Most tomato sauce is cooked at 400 degrees, but I knew that wasn’t the best,” he said. “I remember Mom putting her tomatoes in a great big pot back in Italy and stirring it all day over a fire. I think to myself that temperature could not have been more than boiling point which is 200 degrees and so I know the low temperature is best. It brings out the natural sweetness, I don’t add any sugar.”
For Pat, the restaurant is home and the customers are the same as the family he and his mother cooked for for years. “I love to prepare a meal and have my family enjoy it . That is my reward,” he said. “I’m thinking if a person goes through life the way I have they will do way better. If they concentrate on doing what they love then the reward will come. That’s my philosophy.”
The name of Pat’s restaurant is Ferraro’s Homestyle Italian  and every word in the name is authentic.

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