After 17 years, Nichols Diner has a new look and new owner.
For almost two decades, since 2003 when the Oakwood diner opened, it’s had the same mid-century interior: Bright blues and reds, some chrome here and there and a bar top with stools. But now, after Alan Nichols took over after his brother, Craig, retired, it looks like a completely different place.
“It was just kind of old,” Alan Nichols said, sitting in one of the diner’s brand new booths, sipping soda from a styrofoam cup.
He had just gotten done flipping burgers on the grill in the back. He took his apron off and proudly looked around at the renovated space.
It’s completely redone. Instead of blue and red, the walls are painted with a soft yellow, with one accent wall covered with a wood effect. The booths are new, but still have the classic diner aesthetic. Instead of the bar top with stools, Nichols added a few new booths, gaining about 14 more seats in the dining area.
The rest is new as well — tables, chairs, carpet and overhead menus, which are now screens instead of boards.
But Nichols said the mainstays that made Nichols Diner what it is have remained the same.
“Hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, onion rings,” Nichols said, listing off the mainstays at the diner. “We added a couple things, though, like lighter sides.”
He said they have salads now, along with chicken salad and potato salad, just in case you're not in the mood for something fried.
He’s also using ground chuck for the burgers instead of standard ground beef.
Although most things have stayed the same, Tony Hatfield said everything tastes a little better than it did before the diner closed for renovations on Dec. 20.
“I hate to say it, but it’s definitely better,” Hatfield said. “It’s a lot better. It’s fresh, it’s cooked to order, it’s hot.”
He’s been a longtime customer at Nichols and he usually sticks to the same order: One hotdog, one hamburger, fries and a strawberry shortcake. Even being a creature of habit, he said he likes the changes that came from the renovation.
“It’s like you’re walking into a completely new place,” Hatfield said, one bite left of his burger sitting in front of him. “It’s got a whole new atmosphere.”
He works in Gainesville, but still makes the trip down to Nichols Diner to grab a bite to eat.
“It’s worth the drive to me,” Hatfield said. “It’s that good.”
When the paper went up on the windows as renovations started, Nichols said most people were worried about the menu, not so much the interior renovations. They knew Nichols Diner was here to stay, but the tried-and-true customers, many of whom have kept the doors open with repeat visits each week, had two questions.
“They wanted to know two things,” Nichols said, laughing. “‘Are you going to open on Saturdays?’ And, ‘Are you going to keep the chicken livers?’ I swear, that was the two things they kept on me about when I was renovating.”
Rest easy: The chicken livers are still there, and Saturday hours are coming soon.
Even with the fried chicken livers, Troy Elrod can’t say no to a burger.
“I’ve been coming here since day one,” Elrod said.
He said he likes the new carpet at the diner and the booths, too. Being a Georgia Bulldogs fan, he’s partial to the red-and-black color scheme.
“It needed it,” Elrod said
It’s people like him who made Nichols want to take over the diner and keep it in the family. The new owner can hardly take a few steps out of the kitchen without someone shouting his name to bend his ear about something.
He’s heard from a lot of people that they appreciate Nichols Diner still being around. Through its consistency, and even through the few changes, Nichols said he’s happy to keep the diner alive.
“We've been blessed,” Nichols said. “We've been really blessed. My brother, I just came in behind him and didn't really change a whole lot. I mean, everybody has their own way. But overall it's the same.”