Primo at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa will close on Sept. 30. A new Italian trattoria-style restaurant will take its place in October. 

After 18 years, two-time James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Melissa Kelly is closing her Primo Italian restaurant at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa.

But Italian food is not leaving the west-side Tucson resort entirely.

Sometime in mid-October, Starr Pass, at 3800 W. Starr Pass Blvd., will replace the upscale Primo with a more casual trattoria.

David Fransua, Starr Pass’s executive chef and food and beverage director, has been considering the concept for months, said the resort’s marketing and sales manager Dan Padilla. Fransua, working in concert with Marriott’s corporate food and beverage team, wants to incorporate more locally-sourced grains and flours into the pastas, bread and pizza doughs, much in the manner of Tucson award-winning baker Don Guerra of Barrio Bread, Padilla said.

Kelly’s Primo has been part of the resort since it opened 18 years ago, but business since the pandemic has ebbed and flowed, Padilla said.

“It was a very difficult discussion and very mixed emotions,” Padilla said of the decision to change direction at the restaurant. “We just both kind of came to the mutual agreement that it was time to respectfully cut ties.”

Primo will continue serving through Sept. 30. Padilla said the new restaurant, whose name he would not reveal, is expected to open the second or third week of October after the resort makes some minor renovations to the Primo space.

Starr Pass sent a letter to members on Aug. 18 alerting them of the move.

Primo is one of three restaurants at the resort, which offers memberships for its pool, gym and 27-hole golf course. Padilla said there are no plans to change anything at the all-day Signature Grill or Catalina Barbecue Co. & Sports Bar, located near the golf course.


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Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com. On Twitter @Starburch