It’s hard to believe that a clerical error blossomed into one the biggest names in hospitality across the country. Legend has it that in 1926, just six years after arriving to New York from Parma, Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi wanted to register their Second Avenue restaurant after their hometown. Their heavy accents gave the cleric registering their business the impression they’d said “Palm.” And so, a legend — and The Palm — was born.
The steakhouse’s success wasn’t determined by the name, however, but by the hard work and dedication of its founders. “I spent a lot of time with my grandfather growing up, and he was always in the restaurant,” recalls Wally Ganzi, the third generation of his family running the business alongside the Bozzi family.
Perhaps the most incredible aspect of the Palm Restaurant is the fact it is a two-family business, and it has been that way for its entire 89-year history. “My grandfather was a bartender in New York, and he’d hang out at the Italian club,” says Ganzi. “That’s where he met his paesan Pio Bozzi.” In 1926, the two of them saved enough money to buy a little property at 837 Second Ave., on the corner of 45th Street, right in the middle of a growing Italian neighborhood. Palm One — as it is called nowadays — still represents the heart of a business empire that now counts 25 restaurants across 13 states, including two in Washington D.C., where the company’s headquarters are located.
The need to expand didn’t materialize until the mid-1960s, when the third generation of both families went into the business. “We wanted to grow the business, but my father Walter and Bruce’s father Bruno didn’t want to do it at first, so we went ahead and opened our own restaurants,” says Wally Ganzi. “When they saw that our businesses were doing better than their restaurant, they brought us back and gave us the keys to the place.” The first expansion occurred on the upper floor of the building, where a second dining room was opened in 1967.
But the younger Ganzi and Bozzi were still having a hard time getting by and supporting their two families. The restaurant needed to grow, but how? The idea of branching out and opening locations in other cities came from none other than George Bush Sr., a good friend of Ganzi and a loyal patron while serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the early ’70s. In 1972, the Washington D.C. restaurant opened, followed by a second New York location (Palm Too) across the street from the original Palm. “That was around the time me and Bruce made a deal,” says Ganzi. “He would stay in New York and run the business there, while I’d go out and open new restaurants around the country.”
With Ganzi overseeing every single launch, the Palm quickly became the country’s first steakhouse chain, all the while preserving its family-style dining and dedication to customer satisfaction. “Nothing has really changed over the years,” notes Ganzi. “People want hospitality.”
The rest of the world, however, has changed quite dramatically over the decades since The Palm started in its little corner of New York City. “What is The Palm going to look like in the future?” asks Bruce Bozzi, Jr., the fourth generation of the Bozzi family running the business alongside his father. “For the last eight years, I’ve been looking at refreshing the brand, and that’s what we started to do in 2008, right as the crisis hit.” Bozzi’s plan provided a refreshing facelift to the company, launching a new website in 2010 and opening three new restaurants between 2013 and 2014, including newly designed locations in Boston and Houston.
Like the ideal dish, The Palm’s outstanding success is a perfect mix of ingredients. The most important ones, however, are often behind the scenes. “A big part of our success are the matriarchs,” says Bozzi. “This is too often understated. They are the glue that keeps the families together. Oh, and my mother also makes a mean lasagna.”
In Boston, The Palm can be found at 1 International Place, right across from the Rose Kennedy Greenway. www.thepalm.com