A week ago Saturday Nick and Joan Degaitas celebrated their 36th anniversary of opening their restaurant bearing their name at the Gateway Shopping Plaza. They had been married for three years and after working for Nick’s father, John, at his New York System on Cranston Street in Providence they wanted to start out on their own. Warwick was the suburbs; it’s where people were moving and building homes. Nick and Joan thought it was the place to be and to start a family.
The Gateway Shopping Plaza, a step away from Hoxsie Four Corners, was a center of retail activity. Better yet, a space was available. The Dance Factory had just moved out. It was 1,000 square feet with beautiful hardwood floors. The basement was a practice room with bars and mirrors. In December of 1983 the couple signed a lease. They were going to venture out on their own. The buildout took longer than they planned for, but when they opened on March 14, 1984, it was busy from the start.
“It was non-stop,” says Joan.
It’s no wonder. They knew what they were doing. Since he was a boy of 8 years old, Nick worked the family business – John’s NY System – first near the intersection of Cranston and Dexter and then at their current location at 328 Cranston St. that is run by Nick’s younger brother, Henry.
Nick and Joan’s Place has become a “Cheers” of short order restaurants. It’s where regulars have “their” seat at the counter or booth. It’s where Nick and Joan know exactly what specific customers want and on what day, like a big bowl of Corn Flakes with extra sugar on Saturday for Tim Archibald. He likes his scrambled eggs firm.
Nick can name many of his customers. There’s the wall of fame with hundreds of photographs. There are a few notables, elected officials and the like, but everybody is a celebrity.
Then came COVID-19 and everything changed. On March 16 the governor ordered all restaurants to cease dine-in operations. Nick and Joan, like scores of other restaurants weren’t going to throw in the towel. They went strictly to takeout.
“It was like starting all over again after 36 years,” said Nick. There was a big difference, of course. The extended family and friends weren’t there to cheer them on. Chairs were positioned to block access to the counter, that hardwood dance floor and the booths. Customers can stand and wait for their order at the counter. The state inspectors were by the check on the operation the day following the governor’s edict and gave the couple a thumbs-up.
Business hasn’t exactly been booming, yet many of the regulars are back taking their breakfasts or lunches to eat in the car.
With their daughters, Angela Degaitas and Michaela Boadih running the business a couple of days a week, Nick and Joan are finding more time for themselves. They’ve bought a camper and talk of going on the road when this is all over.
For now, you can still place your order and count on getting, an elbow bump if you want, plenty of smiles and a story.