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Popular restaurant rises from the ashes

When Nolan’s on Canandaigua Lake was destroyed by fire in July 2017, the restaurant’s owners vowed to rebuild in a few months.

Nick Violas, managing partner, in the main dining room of Nolan's. Photo by Diana Louise Carter
Nick Violas, managing partner, in the main dining room of Nolan’s. (Photo by Diana Louise Carter)

In the 15 months since, there have been more than a few setbacks and adjustments. But the brand-new building that opened last weekend on South Main Street keeps the spirit of the old Nolan’s and expands upon it.

“We tried to keep the same feel,” said Managing Partner Nick Violas during a tour of the place. The booths are aligned exactly as they were in the old restaurant. The covered patio is the same size and in the same place. And you’ll see a piece of Canandaigua history wherever you turn.

Violas stops at each framed piece of art or memorabilia on the walls, explaining the story behind them all.  On the dining room wall facing east are three surviving artifacts: the United States flag that was flying over the property the day of the fire, and two historic photos that have been reframed.

Nolan’s executive chef, Alex Bacon, is back, along with many of the regular serving and kitchen staff. The place once again employs about 20 full-time and 50 part-time workers.

But then there are the improvements, too. The patio now has radiant heat in the floor, walls that can be added in colder weather, and a permanent ceiling , all of which help allow its use for 10 months a year. Added onto the back of the restaurant is an event room that can seat 70. The dining room has slightly fewer tables so that the bar eating area could expand, accommodating changing tastes.

Nolan's Restaurant in Canandaigua is back. Photo by Diana Louise Carter
Nolan’s Restaurant in Canandaigua is back. (Photo by Diana Louise Carter)

The kitchen is larger, owing to the business’ growing catering activity, and there’s a full basement instead of the second-floor offices and deck Violas had envisioned. Poor soils wouldn’t allow the original design, something that became evident when the old building’s slab was uncovered in demolition – it had been cracked in half.

Each of these changes, though, Violas views as a gift. Instead of a slab, the restaurant has a full basement, which will eventually house a separate catering kitchen, that he said “is totally what we should have been doing.”

Catering is a large part of how the business survived while Nolan’s was not functioning as a restaurant for more than a year. Nolan’s runs a cafe at Canandaigua County Club and caters events at Heron Hill Winery, as well as off-site functions.

Deep relationships in the community also helped, as other restaurants took on some of the restaurant’s staff when they could. And one couple even booked their wedding rehearsal dinner a year in advance at the non-existent restaurant. Violas said he was sweating over the details; he even drove to Buffalo to obtain the liquor license a day before the dinner took place last weekend.

Violas, a former high school counselor and football coach, opened the restaurant on Lakeshore Drive in 2011 with brother Guy Violas and Kate Nolan.  A few years later, though, redevelopment of the area resulted in the restaurant having just 90 days to vacate those leased premises. Nick Violas said they were close to paying off the initial investment on the original restaurant when they had to move and start renovating a new place.

They chose a spot that had once been a full-service Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant before becoming Manetti’s, an Italian-American restaurant; then Doc’s Lakeside, which specialized in seafood; and finally Nolan’s.

Once again, Nolan’s was one full summer away from returning its investment in the new space when the fire (ruled an accident) happened.

Violas said fire insurance covered $70,000 worth of goods that were lost in the restaurant, vendors’ bills, and debts that could no longer be paid when cash stopped flowing.

Previously, the partners had leased the building from the land-owner, David Genecco, but with the rebuild, they now own the building and just least the land.

Violas estimated the project cost $2.5 million, all told, to rebuild.  He and his brother sold some rental properties they owned, as well as his own house to raise some of the money.  (He’s now living in a cottage owned by his brother.)

Canandaigua National Bank loaned the project more than $1.1 million for construction costs.

“I almost want to cry,” when thinking of what the bank did, Violas said. “They really stepped up.”

Though loans to restaurants are often viewed as high risk, Canandaigua National was able to consider mitigating factors, said John Eilertsen, vice president in commercial services for the bank. And they avoided the support of the Small Business Administration, which can involve lengthy application and approval process, he said.

“It’s the way a community bank reacts to a strong customer,” Eilertsen said.

“We knew Nolan’s was a big success before the fire,” Eilertsen said.  He described Violas as humble, but “his business acumen is fantastic.”  Part of that acumen is obvious, Eilertsen said, in the way Violas went after and won a federal community development block grant of more than $400,000 to help expand the rebuild.

Eilertsen said lenders have to consider an applicant’s five C’s before extending credit: cash flow, collateral, condition of the market, capital from other sources, and one C that isn’t found on the balance sheet, character.

“Nick’s character is off the charts,” Eilertsen said.

Violas was just as complimentary.

“For Canandaigua National to take that risk – I thought it showed a lot of courage,” he said. “I feel like they kind of wrapped their arms around me.”

Getting financing, though, was just part of the picture.  The rebuild was more complicated than any previous restaurant project, Violas said, because a new commercial project must meet all current – often quite complex — building codes, whereas the other buildings that had housed Nolan’s operated under older, simpler, and less expensive codes.

For instance, a 2-inch diameter water line used to be sufficient, but rebuilding meant he needed a 6-inch wide line. He was quick to note, though, that he wasn’t complaining if it meant more water for the building’s fire suppression system.

With the restaurant now open, Violas is looking forward to the future. The event room was planned specifically with bus tour groups in mind; few places in town can accommodate 50 people all at once for lunch at a price point tour companies prefer. He’s also looking forward to having his brother and sister-in-law become actively involved in the business after they wrap up their affairs in California and relocate.

“Everything just keeps falling in place for us – even with the tragedies,” Violas said. Nolan’s held a soft opening for frequent customers and friends and families over the weekend. More than 600 people came. “I had a tightening in my chest for 15 months,” Violas said. After seeing all those familiar faces enjoying his restaurant again, he said, “now, it’s gone.”

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