May 7, 2020, wasn’t the ideal date to open a new restaurant, but sometimes you have to work with the hand you’re dealt.
Nicole Andres has worked as a bartender in the Thurston County area 22 years, and for the last 15 or so, she planned and dreamed of opening a spot of her own. It just so happened that when she actually got the process started, a global pandemic reared its head and complicated the process, to say the least.
She and others first started working on the restaurant, Nicole’s Bar, at 109 Legion Way SW, in downtown Olympia, on Jan. 2, 2020. Every day, sunup to sundown was spent remodeling and forming the interior of the bar.
“It was pretty much three solid months of sleeping here,” she said.
And as they neared the planned grand opening day of March 15, news of the pandemic was becoming more and more dire.
“It was probably the hardest news I’ve had to deal with, but looking back, there were parts of it that were a blessing.”
The blessing, she said, was that it gave her some more time to go back over the finer details of the business that were overlooked the first time around. They were simple things like installing phone chargers around the bar for customers and getting her staff more time to train.
But the plan to have a grand opening in March was completely derailed. It became clear to Andres that her plans would have to change.
“You kind of dumped your whole life savings into something, and you’re not making any money. So you kind of sit alone a couple of times in the bar, and you’re just like, well, what are my choices? … All this hard work, do I turn around and walk away from it or do I try to do different things to make it work?” Andres said.
She opened the business for carryout on May 7.
“Which I didn’t want to do, because I didn’t want people’s first impression of the bar to be takeout food,” said Andres, noting that takeout is simply not as good as fresh off the grill. It doesn’t taste as fresh and the fries get soggy in the container.
But the response from the community was great.
“Which I’m super thankful for,” she said.
The various state-mandated safety regulations have been a bit of a roller coaster ride, with restaurants restricted to takeout only, then to limited indoor capacity, only to slide back to takeout only when COVID cases started to rise. Now, capacity has inched back up to 50 percent across the state, as vaccination efforts have rolled out across the state and nation.
But in the midst of that roller coaster ride, Andres said the support from the community has been solid and consistent.
“Response from the community has been astronomical, honestly. We turn people away Thursday, Friday, Saturday night because there’s no place for them to sit, which is hard for me because I want to accommodate them. But with the regulations, we just don’t have a choice,” said Andres.
Nicole’s Bar features a menu that includes burgers, salads, sandwiches and breakfast fare. You can find a full menu and contact information on their website: https://nicolesbar.com/
The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Wednesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday.