The owners of popular Austin joints Via 313, Juniper and Nickel City join forces to open Northern Italian eatery Uncle Nicky’s in Hyde Park.
By Emily Benson, Photo by Julia Keim
The masterminds behind Juniper, Via 313 and Nickel City are collaborating to bring a new authentic Italian eatery to the Austin community, Uncle Nicky’s. Nicholas Yanes, executive chef of popular Italian restaurant Juniper, and Travis Tober, bartender extraordinaire and owner of Nickel City, are behind the new restaurant, along with collaborators Brandon Hunt and Zane Hunt, owners of Detroit-style pizzeria Via 313. Uncle Nicky’s will evoke the charm and authenticity of a Northern Italian café while also retaining the contemporary Austin allure of the Hyde Park location’s predecessor, the long beloved Dolce Vita gelato shop.
Restaurants in Austin come and go but business is booming for Juniper, Via 313 and Nickel City. The four owners are joining forces to showcase their expertise with the launch of Uncle Nicky’s Eatery this month.
After months of experimentation and preparation, including flying the team out to learn from practicing chefs in Northern Italy, Uncle Nicky’s has captured the quintessential tastes of Europe.
“We took some of the staff members and the pastry chef over [to Northern Italy]just recently,” Yanes says. “It’s going to be fun as we get to divulge in this menu. Really, it’s about engaging in the neighborhood and staying in that Northern Italian concept.”
Yanes says Uncle Nicky’s will differentiate itself by staying true to Northern Italian fare.
“The simplicity and quality of the ingredients—that’s it,” he says. “We’re not trying to do big subs like Jersey Mike’s. [In Italy], it’s only meat, cheese and bread, and we want to live in that same vein.”
The menu will include salads, pasta specials, gelato, and beer and wine. But the stars of the menu will be the authentic Italian sandwiches.
“When people think about Italian sandwiches, they think a lot of cold cuts,” Yanes says. “We’re trying to get away from that. We want to recreate the more simplistic Italian sandwiches, along with the beverage program, gelato and then a bunch of small plates in between. It’s not a sandwich shop; it’s an all-day cafe.”
Clearly, the owners of Uncle Nicky’s are no strangers to Austin’s food industry, and throughout the years, have become experts on customer service, augmenting their passion for gourmet food and drinks. Yanes worked his way through the Uchi kitchen as chef and creative director, honing his meticulous craft before moving on to open his own Italian restaurant, Juniper. Likewise, award-winning mixologist Tober, who has more than 20 years of experience in the bar industry, gained lots of fans as the beverage director at Vox Table before pursuing his own bar, Nickel City, a clever nickname for his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. And the Hunt brothers started Via 313 as an ode to their hometown, Detroit, originally serving pizza out of a quaint food truck in East Austin in 2011.
At Uncle Nicky’s, Yanes will helm the kitchen and Tober will run the bar program and oversee special events. The Hunt brothers will implement marketing tactics and contribute to menu development.
Despite the group’s talent for creating restaurant concepts Austinites eat up, Yanes says Uncle Nicky’s will boast a more approachable feel while maintaining an authentic Northern Italian flair.
“We wanted to separate [Uncle Nicky’s], which is a little more fun and more of the lovable Italian [jerk], from Juniper, our Northern Italian fine-dining cuisine,” Yanes. “And I think we’ve done that.”