Chef Bob Verderame brings Italy, New Jersey to Flagstaff

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, April 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

On the best days, running a small business incurs risks and rewards. Staff often becomes family, but they also may steal from you. Job satisfaction soars, but there are funding challenges. The early years are tenuous, but on the other side, owners are better off financially than employees.  And although small business hours can entangle personal lives, they also offer the greatest flexibility. Overall, despite the risks, a majority of Americans prefer the rewards of being in business for oneself to working for someone else.

Then, there are the worst days. COVID-19 came without warning, causing financial and health reverberations throughout communities across our nation and abroad. Tough times.

As this health crisis proved, even with planning, foresight and innovation, things can turn on a dime. An owner’s dime. Tenacity certainly comes to bear when times get tough.

Enter Mr. Tenacity, Bob Verderame, supported and admired by local lovers of Italian food. With 20 years in food service—outside a short stint in a tattoo parlor—he knows his way around a kitchen and a pot of red gravy, as he refers to sauce.

“I stick to tradition—old school—no corners cut,” said Verderame. “Maintaining that consistency drives me.”

He learned his skills from Palermo Sicilians, who worked tirelessly. He had cooked for huge family groups throughout his life, so at 50 years old, the self-taught chef offered his recipes to Flagstaff.

Verderame has endured more setbacks than his legacy spaghetti and meatballs deserve. His original modest endeavor, Il Rosso Italiane, opened in 2014, but unexpectedly lost its lease in contractual fine print that razed the building to make way for the Marriott Hotel. Undeterred and without an oven, Verderame kept a pop-up presence in Sosoba on Mondays for ten months. There, he plotted his reinvention. Pushing past onerous details, he put it all on the line to open Il Rosso Pizzeria & Bar on Heritage Square in 2017.

“It’s not a 9 to 5 job—40 hours, you’re done. It’s 60-plus hours of cooking a week, not marketing, not planning, not books or scheduling,” said Verderame without a hint of regret. He also quickly credits his “kick ass” staff for their support in managing the front and back of the house. “My crew is the best in the world—we’re family here.”

Verderame built that loyalty, like most owners, because there are no small jobs. He washes dishes, too, but his time is better spent elsewhere, crafting his grandmother’s gravy and Pop’s cheesecake. One Verderame tweaked; the other is a no-no, perfect as it is.

His Paterson, New Jersey roots by way of Italy create the niche appeal of a corner tavern. East Coast transplants know you can’t fake that. With scratch sauce and ricotta, Boar’s Head premium meats and bread baked daily, the earnestness shows. Verderame takes the time it takes. “We do it the hard way in attention to detail—I hope it sets me apart.”

“There are a hundred different ways to do spaghetti and meatballs, so you have to work hard to rise to the top,” he said. “It’s simple, wholesome food.”

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