Des Moines’ Latin King restaurant sold to Kansas City restaurateur

Tursi Latin king, a 73-year-old historic Italian restaurant on Des Moines’ East Coast, gets a new owner for the first time since 1983.

Bob and Amy Tursi hand over the keys to Whitney VinZant, a Kansas City, Missouri-based restaurateur who already owns Fresko and Louie’s Wine Dive in Des Moines. Bob Tursi has acquired Latin king from the original owner and third cousin Jim Pignari, who founded it in 1947. Both families are from Terravecchia, Italy.

According to a press release, VinZant intends to retain the current management, kitchen and servers, but will update the restaurant’s cocktail and wine list, renovate washrooms and add patio seating at 2200 Hubbell Ave .

Tursi's Latin King restaurant on a busy Tuesday night in Des Moines.  Eric Rowley / Juice

The building has housed Des Moines restaurants for over 90 years. Originally The Cinderella Sandwich Shop, which opened in 1930, then the Chanticleer restaurant, it changed name and owner several times between 1937 and 1947, when the Italian immigrant Pignari and his wife Rose saw the opportunity. to bring authentic Italian food to Des Moines.

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The Pignaris sold their house to be able to pay the restaurant lease. They named him Latin King after New York’s Latin Quarter, and that name has passed through the generations.

The current building underwent at least two major renovations, in the 1980s and 1990s. When Jim Pignari decided it was time to retire after 35 years at the helm of the Latin King while taking less than 10 days of vacation , he first entrusted the operations to his sons. Soon after, however, he sold the establishment to his third cousin, Tursi, who was only 21 at the time.

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Family ties have always been deep at Latin King, and now the Tursis are a household name in the Des Moines restaurant industry. Their son RJ grew up with the restaurant, taking the bus to elementary school tables and returning to work for his father as a sommelier after college. In college, he brought his talents to the restaurant on the south side of his aunt and uncle, Barrata.

Now the young Tursi owns Exile Brewing Company, which he started in 2012 with the help and advice of his parents.

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The Tursis may be giving up Latin King ownership, but the family’s long history has left a lasting mark on Des Moines restaurants.

“I’m really happy for my dad and I’m really proud,” said RJ Tursi.

VinZant operates five restaurants in Kansas City, including a Louie’s Wine Dive. Bob Tursi will continue to work with Latin King as a consultant.

Elle Wignall covers meals for the registry. Reach her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @ElleWignallDMR.

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