ONEONTA – Sheena Thorsland has fond memories of Nick’s Diner.
“You’d drink, you’d get hungry, and go to Nick’s,” she said. “We’d eat fries with gravy a lot, so we kept that on the menu.”
Sheena re-opened the Oneonta eatery with her husband, Rodney, last weekend, and all the old stories came out as diners returned to the scene.
“They claimed they never emptied out the chili pot,” Bruce Hinkley, who is in his mid-60s and frequented Nick’s in the 1960s, said, as he ate at the Nick’s counter Monday night. “If you had the chili, you had outrageous dreams afterward, I think because it fermented.”
Hinkley said he would go to Nick’s after drinking in the bars, which closed at 1 or 2 a.m.
ONEONTA – A legend has been reborn – and it’s packed.
After four years of renovating and rebuilding, Nick’s Diner opened at 6 a.m. last Thursday with little publicity. But word of the diner, beloved from its founding in 1927 to when it closed in 2013 – and sorely missed after it that – spread quickly.
“By 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., word got out and lots of people came in,” the diner’s General Manager Chuck Hanson said. “We were so busy!”
Today, only two days after Nick’s “soft opening,” the diner was 3/4 full at noon, with patrons spanning several generations. Among them were former Oneonta Mayor John Nader (2006-2010), now SUNY Farmingdale president on Long Island, his wife Kathy, and her mother, Lorrie Wolverton.
ONEONTA – Whether you’re in the mood for a classic porkchop dinner, some classic Italian fare or even a pizza to take to a party, Nick’s Diner will soon have you covered.
Under the new ownership of Rodney Thorsland, the rennovated West End establishment is slated to open in early January. “The idea has always been to preserve it, to upgrade it, but have it historical-looking,” Thorsland said.
He and Ed May, who owns the property, appear to have fulfilled their vision. May, who worked on the building’s structural design, kept the arched ceilings and narrow width of the railroad car the diner’s founders used when they ran Bob & Dan’s Diner in 1927.
ONEONTA – The audience filled the seats and spilled out into the hallway as the Common Council again debated, then approved Nick’s Diner’s application for a $230,000 CDBG grant.
The vote enables Nick’s prospective owner Rodney Thorsland’s to submit the application to Albany for its approval.
Thorsland’s request has been hotly debated in the past three Common Council meetings, with several community members speaking against the proposed grant at the past two Common Council meetings.
“As a businessman who has invested one and a half million dollars of my own money in local business, I find it personally offensive that the city would even consider supporting giving a grant to a business that is not unique to the community in any way,” Dr. Eric Dohner, who operated New York Skin & Vein, said this evening.
Here’s the choice: The nearly complete restoration of Oneonta’s historic Nick’s Diner can go forward, with better than even chances it will succeed. Or, almost complete, it can be allowed to remain vacant, eventually deteriorating to the point it will be razed or removed.
That’s the choice: Something – maybe something good. Or nothing.
Better than even chances because the prospective owner, Rod Thorsland, is from a restaurateur family that has successfully operated the former Pondo’s restaurant in the Sixth Ward and thriving Pondo’s II in Colliersville for many decades.
Given his own experience and the expertise around the Sunday dinner table, would Thorsland – himself, he’s been in the restaurant business since age 16 – assume the significant responsibility of reviving Nick’s and the related debt without confidence he can make it work?
Under debate in the City of the Hills is whether Common Council should approve an application to the state Office of Community Renewal for a $230,000 CDBG – a federal Community Development Block Grant.
Applicants for CDBGs must submit a “pre-application” to the OCR. Thorsland has, and it’s been approved. So it’s likely the final application will fly right through.
If so, Thorsland will complete the purchase of the diner from Ed May, the local entrepreneur who took on its renovation. Then, within six weeks, the final touches can be done and the venerable Oneonta icon reopened.
“Tour it,” Mayor Herzig advised in an interview, “because it is an absolutely beautiful restoration that keeps the feel of the old railroad car, but at the same time is a state-of-the-art diner, beautifully designed, brand new kitchen, energy efficient.”
Usually, Common Council would simply rubber-stamp a pro-approved application. But a handful of objecting residents showed up at its June 19 meeting, and a few more last Tuesday, July 3, successfully delaying action. Mayor Gary Herzig now hopes for a vote this coming Tuesday, the 17th.
The main objection seems to be: Why should Thorsland get the money? Answer: Why not? CDBGs are designed to help entrepreneurs, close the “gap” between initial cost and possible success.
In Thorsland’s case, he will have to invest $320,000 beyond the CDBG. He has skin in the game. The CDBG simply enables him to shoulder significant risk and provides the prospect of a lot of hard work.
In recent years, the city has directed $1.5 million in state and federal money to promising projects, some which make it, some which don’t. Why not Thorsland, whose prospects don’t seem that daunting? (Among other pluses, Oneonta has been yearning for an old-fashion diner since the beloved Neptune was razed at the end of 2013.)
Further, any entrepreneur who wishes can also seek a CDBG. Call Mispa Haque at City Hall’s Office of Community Development, 607-432-0114, and ask for an application, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If any of the objectors want money to try something, call her.
The other issue is whether Nick’s can create 15 jobs, as promised.
Thorsland is undeterred: He’s planning a seven-day, 24-hour venture, so he has to fill 21 shifts. Pondo’s II, a daytime operation, has 12 fulltime employees and much shorter hours.
If nothing else, a new Nick’s will improve the western gateway into the downtown, where each summer hundreds of families approaching from Cooperstown All-Star Village get their first impression of the city’s downtown, Herzig said.
When businesspeople ask for help, he continued, Community Development Director Judy Pangman doesn’t decide if the project is worthy; she connects them with the program that might help them.
Until now, Common Council hasn’t decided if applicants are worthy – simply that they qualify to apply.
“If you come to us, no matter who you are, we will identify what assistance you can apply for,” Herzig said, adding: “I don’t want politicians picking or choosing.”
Bagnardi’s Shoe Repair, anyone?
ONEONTA – Citing Freedom of Information Law requests which had yet to be fulfilled, and the absence of three Council members, Mayor Gary Herzig pulled a resolution from the agenda to approve a $230,000 Community Development Block Grant for Nick’s Diner at this evening’s Common Council meeting.
“In respect to people who have submitted FOIL requests and have not received them yet, and in consideration of the Council members who are not present tonight, and to allow Council members to digest some of the comments that were made, I’m going to remove the item from tonight’s agenda,” said Herzig. “I will reschedule it when people have received their FOIL requests and once all of the OtesOtCouncil members have had an opportunity to consider the comments.”
Herzig’s decision came as a surprise, even to himself; he said he only made the decision after hearing the public’s comments.