When Toni Ross and her late husband, Jeff Salaway, bought Nick & Toni’s, floors were sinking into the ground and the kitchen was tiny. “It was not what I thought of as our place,” Ross says, “but I think we made it what it was meant to be.”
Salaway thought it was perfect, and so did the rest of East Hampton. The hot spot turns 30 years old this season and carries on a legacy of Mediterranean-Italian dishes with seasonal ingredients.
On the horizon is the company’s expansion with Coche Comedor, a Mexican spot overseen by Nick & Toni’s chef, Joe Realmuto. Like much of the staff, he’s been with the restaurant for decades. “I fell in love with everything out here: the local fisherman, the farmers, the camaraderie in a kitchen,” he says. “Jeff and Toni had a vision of doing what’s done in Italy, where the farmers bring things right to the back door. I loved that.”
The story of Nick & Toni’s begins in Italy, where the couple met in a marble quarry. They lived only 10 blocks apart in New York but eventually wanted to start their business away from the city.
Salaway’s sudden death in 2001 made Ross rely on her team. Partner Mark Smith says, “People were wondering if we’d survive. We set out to build an organization that can survive without any of us.”
Nick & Toni’s did survive. “We’ve seen a lot of people grow up—including myself—in this organization,” Realmuto says. “It allowed us to buy homes, put kids through college and have retirement funds.”
Ross says, “When I couldn’t be there, after my husband died, they carried on and continued his vision. For that, I’m eternally grateful.” She says she can’t predict the food industry’s future but plans to stick to her husband’s mission of serving authentic meals and welcoming all as family. 136 N. Main St., East Hampton
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