Little Italy in the Little Apple: New Italian restaurant to open in Aggieville

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Nico's Little Italy plans to open in October. There have been some setbacks due to COVID-19. (Jared Shuff | Collegian Media Group)

Nico’s Little Italy, the sister restaurant of Salina-based Martinelli’s Little Italy, plans to open in Aggieville sometime in October.

While the restaurant itself is new to the Manhattan area, operating partner Nicolette Unruh is a familiar face among the community. She has lived in Manhattan for the past 4 years, driving back and forth from Martinelli’s for work ever since.

“I’ve worked at Martinelli’s since 2006, so for a long time I guess,” Unruh said. “I love Manhattan, I really enjoy the Flint Hills, and I don’t really want to move, so [Nico’s] was just a good opportunity to expand our operations.”

Martinelli’s catered to various Manhattan wedding venues in the past, so an idea for a local version of the restaurant has been around a while.

“There’s a market for an Italian restaurant in [Manhattan], and we feel like that kind of fit the bill for us, especially with me living here,” Unruh said.

Opening during the COVID-19 pandemic has come with its fair share of obstacles, but Martinelli’s faced its own share of difficulties when opening in 2001.

“Martinelli’s opened in 2001, and it was in September, and if you know a whole lot about September 2001, lots of crazy things went down in the economy and the United States at that time,” Unruh said. “Sometimes taking risks gives you the opportunity to be really successful.”

Nico’s faced issues when obtaining proper licensure to operate as people are still working from home. The sudden halt in normal procedures slowed the process down.

“With the city, we had to drop off a piece of paperwork and then wait for that person to come in to sign it. Something that normally would have just been ‘hand over the paper and sign it’ turns into a 48-hour process,” Unruh said. “So it just takes a little longer than anticipated or hoped for.”

Martinelli’s remained open through the pandemic, so the restaurant figured out ways to operate safely and efficiently. Constant sanitization and the creation of new services are just a few ways they plan to ensure a safe environment for customers at Nico’s.

“We’ve always done delivery and takeout, but the curbside option and no-contact delivery is something newer for us, so just implementing some processes that allow for us to do that, taking a phone number, vehicle make and model, that kind of stuff. Just small changes to how we take those orders,” Unruh said.

Nico’s will have designated parking spaces for curbside pickup. The restaurant will also provide online ordering and delivery drivers, choosing not to use third-party services such as EatStreet or Grubhub.

“We believe that we can keep track of our staff if they’re safe and healthy because we’re able to monitor them as they come into our store versus an outside party where we’re not sure about who’s coming to pick up the food and who’s delivering it,” Unruh said.

Jenri Conley, sophomore in secondary education, plans to utilize some of these new services.

“Personally, I’m not super comfortable with going and dining in at a restaurant right now,” Conley said. “I love curbside because it’s just really convenient, and when you don’t have a delivery fee that’s even better.”

While Conley was not aware of Nico’s future in Manhattan, she was very familiar with Martinelli’s.

“I have eaten at Martinelli’s, so that makes this a little exciting because Martinelli’s is so good,” Conley said. “Putting a restaurant like that in the business district of a college town is definitely a smart move.”

Both Conley and Raegan Wessel, junior in civil engineering, said Nico’s might face some struggles opening up in Aggieville given the pandemic.

“My friends and I rarely go to Aggieville anymore,” Conley said. “Whenever there’s a lot less people down in Aggieville, it might be harder to bring attention to the fact you’re opening a restaurant there.”

Similarly, Wessel said she plans to avoid Aggieville for the time being. She also voiced concern for future employees.

“People would probably be nervous to start a job as a waitress or waiter right now, so I’m sure that might be difficult,” Wessel said.

Unruh said hiring has yet to be an issue for the budding business.

“We’re starting to collect applications,” Unruh said. “We haven’t done interviews at this point to actually fully hire until we have a firm opening date. We have a good handful of applications, it’ll just be interesting to see how that goes. [We’ll] see when we start doing interviews what people think and how they feel.”

Despite the concerns, Wessel said she has high hopes for Nico’s and its future in Manhattan.

“I think as long as there are students in Manhattan they will be okay,” Wessel said. “If we’re still here, I think they’ll do good.”

Nico’s describes itself as “unpretentious Italian cuisine” and offers a large menu with large portions. Dishes include classic chicken Alfredo, Sicilian shrimp and scallops, toasted ravioli, chop salad and much more.

“When I think about Italian food and I think about Italy, it’s so focused on getting together and spending time together,” Unruh said. “We really like to think of ourselves as a place where anyone can come, and you can come as you are, you don’t have to be fancy. It’s just a place to come be a part of the family.”

Nico’s Little Italy is located at 1101 Moro St., Suite 111, and Unruh estimates the business will open sometime in October.

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