For Pat Nicholl and his wife, Kim, the path toward restaurant ownership all started in Juneau, Alaska, some two decades ago. Nicholl, who worked in the grocery business managing stores for 15 years, found himself a newlywed and in the United States’ 49th state where his wife’s father was a restaurateur. There, Nicholl helped his father-in-law open a bigger operation. After a few years, he and Kim decided to move back to the lower-48. So, they sold their share in the restaurant they’d helped build and moved to Washington. In 2005, they opened their own family-run restaurant, Amici Italian Eatery, a beloved community hub in the cozy small town of Graham.
“We took the best things from all the restaurants we ran up there, and we brought them to our Italian place here,” says Nicholl. “Originally, it was just going to be a pizza and fish-and-chips house. But it’s evolved into full steak, prime rib, pasta and pizza.”
According to Nicholl, the prime rib is a fan favorite, and people drive for miles to order the dish when it’s available on the weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Other popular items include comfort food like lasagna, cannelloni, gnocchi, tortellini and garlic chicken Alfredo. All the sauces served in-house are made from scratch. Amici also features about a dozen oven-fired pizza options, including build-your-own.
“I’m a big fan of ‘keep it simple,’” Nicholl says. “It doesn’t need to get too complicated.”
Along with the delicious food, customers enjoy wine selections, (craft) beer and cocktails. For lunch, patrons can spend about $9 on a slice and a salad or a small pasta and a salad. For dinner, prices in the ambiance-rich eatery rise a bit. Diners can spend $45-55 for two, depending on chosen appetizers and drinks. Still, not too pricey for a lovely night out or a nice to-go night in!
“The community has been fantastic,” Nicholl says. “They supported us this last year — they supported us hardcore. There were a lot of to-go orders. That actually caught me off guard. I didn’t expect to do the amount we did.”
Nicholl takes all those orders as both a sign Amici is doing something right, and its patrons want the place to stick around long in the future.
“We’re a little tiny hub,” he says. “But we’re one of the best anchors in the area. We’re a community gathering place. People know each other when they come in here. They know my staff. I don’t like turnover. I like when people know each other by name.”
During the pandemic, Nicholl and his wife, thanks to the community’s support, were able to keep the doors open and the lights on. While Nicholl is looking forward to more normalcy in the future, he also knows there may never be a way to go back to how things were in the past for the foodservice industry, pre-shutdown. Yet, he remains steadfast and hopeful. “You can’t kill me!” he jokes. As a way to bring some calm to their and the employee’s lives, he and his wife recently made the tough decision to close on Mondays now.
“Our staff was stretched too thin,” Nicholl says. “So, we took that day out, and everyone can get a break!”
While he mentions worry, the reality is that Nicholl loves Amici. He and Kim spend a lot of time there, getting to know the patrons, employees and their stories. They’re invested in the place, literally and figuratively. They can do each on-site job required, from cooking to running food to repairs. Nicholl knows that’s the only way to grow and sustain a restaurant. It’s like a garden. One can’t just till some earth, plant some seeds and walk away. There needs to be devotion.
“This is our life,” Nicholl says. “This is what our hopeful retirement is down the road. I don’t want to close the place, and I don’t want to walk away. My dream has always been that somebody comes in, buys it, takes it over and keeps it going when we decide to move on.”
The restaurant business is challenging. Yet, it’s also essential. People go to restaurants to see one another face-to-face, to hear each other’s voices, to clink glasses in celebration or encouragement. For Nicholl and Amici, that can’t go away. And, if they have anything to say about it, it won’t. As the old saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” Well, Amici is proving that is true yet again.
“That’s why I’m invested,” Nicholl says. “To keep the place strong and profitable and enticing so somebody wants to come down the road someday and push me out!”
Amici Italian Eatery
9807 224th St. E Suite 100