“We don’t treat the customers like a number; everybody has a name and everybody has a story.”
Six-year-old Marina Makris sits at Nicky’s Café, scribbling in a Disney colouring book and drinking a strawberry milkshake.
She has grown up in this place, which was founded by her grandfather.
Nicky Makris, who opened this Regina institution 30 years ago, pours coffee and serves tables in the mid-morning full house. His wife, little Marina’s namesake, greets people at the door and packs up catering orders. Her “own French toast” is on the menu.
Nicky no longer runs the café — “now he’s expensive help,” son Perry jokes.
Eight years ago, Perry Makris became part-owner, but he, too, has worked here since Day 1.
Perry was 11 when Nicky’s Café opened, but his first job was folding napkins as a four-year-old at The Diplomat, then co-owned by his dad and brother.
Nicky pushed his son away from restaurants and toward law or medicine — a Greek immigrant’s “illusions of grandeur,” says Perry. But after earning his commerce degree (with a hospitality minor) in Toronto, “The office thing just wasn’t my cup of tea. … I’m a people person, I’m very extroverted.”
Today Perry is a “dishwasher/plumber/everything,” running around refilling coffee, doling out soup, taking orders, handshaking and how-are-you-ing to almost everyone in store.
Nobody is a stranger here.
“We don’t treat the customers like a number; everybody has a name and everybody has a story,” says Kevin Foley, Perry’s business partner since buying Nicky’s shares a couple years ago.
It’s “a homey place,” which is what attracted Foley to it in 1989; he worked for six years, before returning to run the business with his friend.
Just like Nicky’s son has taken over running the business, their customers’ children have also become regulars.
“Now they have kids in their 20s and 30s and any time they come back they’re always first to say to Nick, ‘Do you remember my son …?’ ” says Foley.
“It’s just a little bit different of a place. There’s lots of yelling in a boisterous, fun style; it’s not your typical wait at the door, come in, throw coffee down. We really try to do our best to get to know the people that come here.”
And they give back to the community — this week, fundraising for Cosmopolitan Learning Centre.
All good reasons for repeat visits, but so is the food.
It’s “fresh, homemade and plentiful,” says Perry: Their own recipe Italian sausage, potatoes from Craven, homemade soups every day.
Tuesday’s was a customer favourite, cabbage roll soup, with onions, cabbage, tomato, rice and dill.
“We use a lot of dill here. My dad’s favourite spice for sure,” says Perry.
This batch was made on request, for two customers disappointed by the lack thereof on Monday.
“I was going to make it sometime” anyway, says Nicky, so he made it for them.
Their everyday soup is just as good — creamy lentil, which has sold “millions of bowls” over the years.
Nicky’s is known for breakfast and stays busy through lunch. (If you prefer shredded hashbrowns, get there early. By late morning, cubed is the only option.)
It’s not trendy or pretty food, but it’s hot and plentiful.
It has been “pretty much” the same menu since 1986, says Perry, in terms of the staple “Saskatchewan fare.” Hamburgers, hot cutlets, turkey dinner, roast beef, slathered in gravy and fried onions if you want it that way.
Because, “Why fix something that’s not broken?”
There have been a few tweaks over the years, though, including some lower-carb options on the menu.
“We’re a mom and pop restaurant,” says Perry. “We’re in the Warehouse District. This is an area of blue-collar people … We’re definitely not about fancy.”
It’s a place where people “from all walks of life … can sit down and chat and put their feet up for a few minutes,” says Foley. “Big boots or suits, it doesn’t matter.”
Nicky’s Café is closed on Sundays — everyone deserves a day of rest, was Nicky’s philosophy. Other days, they’re open 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 1005 8th Ave.
In each Thursday’s Live To Eat, I’m talking to the people who make our city’s food scene so great. And if you’ve eaten anything awesome in Regina lately, I want to know about it.