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The Minnesota Daily

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Restaurants: A family affair

The Nicklows have operated businesses around the University for years.
Tony Nicklow takes a break from sweeping in front of his restaurant, Tonys Diner, Wednesday in Dinkytown.
Image by Satchell Mische-Richter
Tony Nicklow takes a break from sweeping in front of his restaurant, Tony’s Diner, Wednesday in Dinkytown.

Tony Nicklow didnâÄôt plan on entering the family business.

After more than four years in China, his plan was to stay and work for the American embassy. But a âÄúrandomâÄù look at a vacant Dinkytown property during his visit home led him to join the familyâÄôs trade with TonyâÄôs Diner âÄî a joint popular with students and local residents for almost nine years.

âÄúItâÄôs been great,âÄù Nicklow said. âÄúWe have a great clientele.âÄù

The Nicklow family has dominated the University of Minnesota restaurant scene for decades. So far, TonyâÄôs Diner has been their most successful endeavor in the area.

The restaurantâÄôs setup attracts many students âÄî something that helps other Dinkytown businesses, said Skott Johnson, Dinkytown Business Association president.

âÄúItâÄôs a great fit for the University area,âÄù he said.

But the Nicklow family doesnâÄôt limit their business to Dinkytown alone.NicklowâÄôs uncle, James Nicklow, owns the Shorewood Bar and Grill in Fridley, Minn.. The Santorini Taverna in Eden Prarie,Minn., and NicklowâÄôs Café and Bar in Spring Lake Park, Minn., are also headed by members of the Nicklow clan.

The family has also expanded into real estate and owns a portion of the building home to Chipotle Mexican Grill and Punch Pizza in Stadium Village.

Tony Nicklow said he plans to open a restaurant in Stadium Village in the next few years. He said the success of TonyâÄôs Diner inspired the idea.

Although the Nicklow family previously attempted to expand into Stadium Village, Tony Nicklow said he has the money for another try. Little TonyâÄôs, which was located behind Chipotle and the former Oak Street Cinema, closed within a year of opening,

Tony NicklowâÄôs father, Bill Nicklow still owns the property and now leases the space to Kim Chi & Tofu House. According to Hennepin County property records, the building has a market value of $235,000.

The NicklowâÄôs Downtime Bar, a spot known for its cheap happy hour specials and live music, also closed.

But the family stays optimistic about future success in the area because of the clientele. Both Tony Nicklow and his father said they have a âÄúsoft spotâÄù for the students.

âÄúKids wonâÄôt complain and are very friendly,âÄù Bill Nicklow said. âÄúTheyâÄôre here to study and to look to their future, but have some fun along the way.âÄù


A time-tested recipe

Bill Nicklow immigrated to the United States from Greece after World War II with his two brothers (James and Tony) and his mother. He studied to become a teacher at St. Cloud State University, but ultimately was drawn into the restaurant business.

âÄúI was hungry,âÄù Nicklow said.

After a few years, Nicklow and his brothers opened a restaurant called the Best Steak House on the corner of Washington Avenue and Oak Street Southeast, where BrueggerâÄôs Bagels now sits. Nicklow and his brothers would soon own five steakhouses in the metro area.

Nicklow served his food with one motto âÄî the customer should get their moneyâÄôs worth.

Now, Nicklow acts as an âÄúambassadorâÄù for TonyâÄôs Diner, chatting with customers, helping in the kitchen and reminiscing with old friends.

âÄúI always say, busy hands are healthy hands,âÄù Nicklow said. âÄúI donâÄôt feel my age when IâÄôm here.âÄù

âÄúItâÄôs good having him here,âÄù Tony Nicklow said. âÄúThere are days when weâÄôre dueling, but itâÄôs easier for us to work with family than with strangers.âÄù

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