One-year-old NiKi’s Pizzeria will hold an anniversary ribbon-cutting 3-6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26.
NiKi’s Pizzeria, in the Publix shopping center off Palm Coast Parkway, never had a proper grand opening. A year ago, Aug. 27, when it unlocked its doors, it did just that. Open up. Display a sign. See what happens.
“And we were busy from that day forward,” co-owner Joanne Longhway said. “People just started coming in.”
It was a spontaneous move, she said. They’d been setting up for three months, scheduled to open the first week of September. On her husband’s suggestion, she and her partner, Lorraine Tavolacci, experimented, turned on their ovens a week earlier.
Demand has been steady ever since.
“I know it sounds crazy, but (we) just never thought negative,” she said of the partners’ decision to open a pizza place in Palm Coast, in the down economy.
Initially, the two planned to open an old-fashioned candy store, a small shop that served light meals and coffee. A place that wouldn’t require a lot of cooking.
Then, out of the blue, they got an offer from the former owners of DiLorenzo’s Bistro & Pizzeria. “And the price was right,” Longhway said.
That’s when plans took a drastic turn in a new direction.
Longhway, who has lived in Flagler 25 years, worked at the Sheraton Palm Coast Resort from its first to last year, then later at the Atlantic Grille, in the Hammock. That’s where she met Tavolacci, as well as other members of the NiKi’s staff.
“I was tired of working for corporate,” she said. “(Tavolacci and I) just kind of climbed the ladder together.”
Tony Mongone, chef, also worked at the Atlantic Grille, and Linda Herman, server manager, has worked with Longhway in resorts for more than a decade.
Of 18 total employees, Longhway said she knows most through resort work. Or because they went to Flagler Palm Coast High School with her now-26-year-old son, Matt. Or because she has been friends with their parents.
“It took us a little while — you go through bumps — but we really do have a (great team),” she said.
Since taking over the restaurant, Longhway and Tavolacci have made steady renovations. The table tops have been replaced; they’ve added new kitchen equipment, a new pizza table, bigger coolers, a new ice machine. After the holidays, they revamped the menu, adding lunch portions and desserts.
But they won’t expand.
“I’m happy,” she said. “The bigger it gets, the more stressful … One project at a time; that’s how I put.”
Plus, they’ve got a good atmosphere established, she said, which is what Longhway and Tavolacci truly want NiKi’s to be known for.
“I love when (people) come in here … saying they feel at home,” she said. “We laugh. We sit with them sometimes … It’s a hometown feeling … And it feels good. You feel proud.”
Once, with Italian music blasting, customers and workers got up and started dancing together, she said. The people sitting at outdoor tables came inside to join the party.
“I just can’t believe how successful it’s been,” Longhway said. “I just want to thank everybody for their support. I just want to thank them.”
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