Need for change leads to purchase of Nick’s Restaurant in Athol

  • Just two months ago, Beth Saltare (left) handed off the operation of Nick’s restaurant in Athol to new owner Kelly Ballard. —Greg Vine

  • Just two months ago, Beth Saltare (left) handed off the operation of Nick’s restaurant in Athol to new owner Kelly Ballard. Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 3/14/2019 9:00:23 PM

ATHOL — After nearly 30 years with Athol Savings Bank, Kelly Ballard decided it was time for some new scenery — career-wise, that is. So, she traded the office of a bank manager for the busy kitchen of a restaurateur. She said her decision was made after spending some time speaking with the now-previous owner of Nick’s restaurant, a regular customer at the bank.

“I was ready for a change,” said Ballard. “You know when you know when you know. And I thought, ‘Hmmm, I wonder if I can do this.’ It took about a year of deciding what I really wanted to do — if it was the right decision.”

Ultimately, she determined it would be the right decision and, on January 16, she became the new owner of Nick’s.

The eatery at 567 Main Street has gone through several incarnations over the past five decades: “This was Rockin’ Robin’s for years,” said Ballard. “It was Liz & John’s, and Sandy’s Place, and Arsenault’s. It’s been here for a long time.”

She said she has considered changing the name but, for the time being, it will remain “Nick’s.”

“I always kind of wanted to do something with a restaurant,” she explained, “but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I didn’t really give it a lot of thought. And then I thought, ‘You know, I have 10 more years to work. I’ve worked hard — I worked my way up the ladder.’ And I just decided if I’m going to work hard, I want to work hard for myself, not for someone else. And it is a tough business.”

One thing that helped Ballard make her decision was the fact that Nick’s was already an established restaurant.

“Beth (Saltare, the previous owner) pretty much had everything set up for me,” said Ballard, “in terms of the physical set-up and the ordering and the accounts, and all that stuff. I didn’t have to come in and start brand new. And I told her I wanted a lot of the staff to stay with me because that’s an important part of the business. So, I have four of the original staff that was here when I bought the place.”

Altogether, Ballard employs eight people. She also gets help from her family.

“I do,” she said. “Both my daughters; one of them (Emilie) usually works on the weekends. She lives in Vermont, but when she comes home, she’ll help out. My mom — I’ve had her in a couple of times. She actually worked here when it was Arsenault’s restaurant, when she was 17 or 18, about 50 years ago.”

She also gets help from her daughter, Mya, who is a junior at Mahar Regional High School.

“I told her if she doesn’t want to go to school, and if this is something she wants, if it’s going well, I’ll turn it over to her,” said Ballard. “She’s not sure exactly what she wants to do, but she’s still young. Who really knows when you graduate high school what you really want to do?”

“This has been a huge learning curve for me,” she continued. “Beth was going to stay with me for a couple of months and help get on my feet, and the day after I started here, she broke her foot. So, she’s been in and out helping me get going.”

Ballard said she intends to keep things fairly familiar for the restaurant’s loyal clientele.

“So far, I’ve kept everything the same,” she said. “A lot of people in this town don’t like a whole lot of change; if it’s not broken don’t fix it. So, the menu’s the same. I may be adding some things, but I need to get my feet wet first. So far, I’ve done every job here.”

To ensure customer know what they’ll be getting, Ballard has kept cook Jason Labell in charge of the kitchen, who has been cooking for years.

“This place has always been something. I’m the sixth owner, so I’d like to keep it going. It’s really one of the only diners left here in town.”

Unlike many locally owned and operated restaurants, Nick’s is open seven days a week: 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 6 a.m. to noon Saturday and Sunday.

Ballard’s goal as the new owner of a restaurant is simple: “I want people to come in, visit, get a great warm meal, and fill up their bellies.”

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