Tutta Bella Turns 10 & Owner Joe Fugere Talks to GO: South Seattle

Tutta Bella Turns 10 & Owner Joe Fugere Talks to GO: South Seattle

When Tutta Bella founder Joe Fugere says he’s passionate about the role of business in positive social change, he’s not kidding.

Ten years ago, before Columbia City was all the rage, Joe took an old building on the northeast corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Hudson Street and turned it into the Northwest’s first certified Neapolitan pizzeria, also known as the Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant in Southeast Seattle. Since then he’s opened three more wildly successful restaurants in Seattle and one in Issaquah. All of Joe’s employees — including hourly workers — have received health insurance since 2008 — years before it was mandated by Obamacare.

“My only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner, because the unexpected consequences have been unbelievably positive,” he told Radius last year. “I learned that nothing trumps employee health and happiness. Our turnover is way below industry average, and it’s so great to see employees getting regular check-ups and displaying big bright smiles.”

In 2010, when President Obama traveled to Seattle to meet with several small business owners for a discussion about strengthening the economy and creating jobs, Joe was invited to participate in the discussion (above).

This week, he was kind enough to answer a few questions for our People in Your Neighborhood column — a series of interviews with some of South Seattle’s most interesting and engaging people.

Joe Fugere


Genesee Park

How long in Seattle’s south-end?
Pretty much my whole life. I grew up on Beacon Hill, attended college in Pullman, worked in LA for a few years, then Pioneer Square, and now I’m back in the Valley.

Day job:
Founder, Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria.

What do you like most about your day job?  
Supporting others in achieving their personal and professional goals.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The allure of freshly made Attibassi espresso and a warm brioche at Tutta Bella’s morning espresso bar in Columbia City.

Where do you volunteer:
Board of Directors, OneAmerica and Steering Committee at the Main Street Alliance.

Why do you volunteer?  
In the case of OneAmerica, I joined the board because I believed deeply in their English Innovations Program and work on immigration reform and other social justice issues. In the case of the Main Street Alliance, I joined the steering committee there because I believed that Main Street businesses across America needed a voice.

What are you passionate about?   
Social progress, and the role that businesses can have in affecting positive social change.

What are your hobbies?
Gardening–I love discovering and growing unique foliage, cooking, reading architecture and business books mostly, and an occasional novel or biography.

Tell us about your family:  
I’ve been together with my husband for 20 years. My daughter and her husband and my two grandchildren live in Washington D.C. My mom still lives in the same house on Beacon Hill where I grew up. I am a middle child and have four siblings.

Who inspires you?
I admire Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest innovators of all time. I am also inspired by those who live their lives with integrity and humility, as well as patience and persistence. Pope Francis and Barack Obama fall into this category.

What was the last thing you read?  
I am currently reading Garth Stein’s new novel “A Sudden Light”. Garth is a friend and wrote his first book “The Art of Racing in the Rain” while renting a desk at the Tutta Bella Support Office—he’s a great guy and I love his writing.

Tell us something about you that not many people know:  
One of my jobs as a teenager in the 70s was working for Hostess Bakery in Seattle. I dressed up as a loaf of bread affectionately known as Freddy Fresh Guy. I visited local grocery stores with Twinkie the Kid and invited customers to squeeze me to see how fresh I was. Seriously, can you imagine a company putting that expectation expressly in a job description today?

What’s your favorite thing about the Rainier Valley?
I LOVE that we are less than two miles from the city center but it feels like living in a small town.

Where is your favorite place to go in the Rainier Valley?   
Besides being at Tutta Bella, I enjoy walking around the loop in Seward Park. And as a kid, I used to love standing at the lookout above the Mt. Baker tunnel over I-90 at night. I would imagine I’m in an airplane and the freeway was a landing strip! Truth is, I still do this from time to time…

If there was one thing you could change about the Rainier Valley, what would it be?
I would like to see more medium-sized businesses locating here. Companies with 15-50 employees. I think it would really enrich the social and economic fabric. I would also like to see a college campus located here. Okay, I realize that was two things.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?  
Sitting on my deck at home enjoying a Marinara pizza with anchovies and a glass of Chianti.

What is your greatest fear?
Letting others down.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Forgetting names.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

What is your greatest regret?  
I am seldom regretful. I prefer to be introspective and learn from my mistakes and missed opportunities.

What is your current state of mind?  
Thankful for the people in my life.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?  
Helping others to achieve.

What is your most treasured possession?
My family (is that a possession?)

If you could live anywhere besides the Rainier Valley, where would it be?  
Somewhere in Mexico.

What do you most value in your friends?
Transparent conversations.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?  
I really like Iron Man. A classic example of how you can’t judge a book by its cover.

What is it that you most dislike?

What else should we know about you?
I’m an introvert, so you probably already know more than I intended.

Photo/Tutta Bella


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