Michelle Nurmi and Pedro Gallegos are no strangers to the restaurant scene. With over 50 years’ combined experience in downtown Seattle restaurants, the duo has now taken root in Olympia.
“I had Pedro come down just to get his opinion on the kitchen and hear his thoughts because I respected his opinion,” says Nurmi, the restaurant’s CFO. “After deciding not to take the leap more than once, Pedro kept insisting I should do it and finally asked if I would say yes if he became my partner. That was all I needed to ‘be all in.’ “
The two, now a team, decided it was time to create their own concept, creating Uptown Grill in the former Tipsy Café, near the corner of Capitol Way and Fifth Ave. “We loved the space and couldn’t resist despite the crazy times and the new ‘normal,’ which no one expected to last as long as it has,” says Nurmi. “We are looking forward to having live music starting on the weekends once we are allowed.”
Nurmi says that starting a business during the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been easy, but the challenges are surprisingly predictable. Each day they are working on building up their social media presence and delivery to build brand recognition. Decorating, hiring staff and creating budgets were also to be expected. Creating safe social distancing practices and curbside pickup options were not in the original plan, but had to be worked in.
“We are social distancing, disinfecting constantly, wearing masks and gloves, and gearing up for more delivery every day with online ordering and curbside pickup,” mentions Nurmi. “As of today we have Uber delivery, and by the end of the week we should have GrubHub and Postmates as well.”
What’s the biggest draw that Nurmi and Gallegos are banking on for new customers? Simple. “We have happy hour all day, every day,” Nurmi says, “with both food and drink specials.”
With a diverse menu, many should find something worth the trip. Favorites at Uptown Grill include the house-made chicken pot pie, Uptown Burger, wild Alaskan cod and wild salmon Coho fish and chips, as well as fish tacos.
In addition, customers have rated the clam chowder the best in Olympia, according to Nurmi. “We are changing our menu almost daily based on the feedback from our customers,” she says. “We have just added more vegetarian and vegan items as well. We also just started serving breakfast all day.”
Despite the pandemic, the fledgling restaurant is consistently serving up delicious food to a teeming crowd. With live music on the horizon, and excellent reviews already coming in online, Uptown Grill should not disappoint.
Uptown Grill Restaurant
514 Capitol Way S, Olympia, WA 98501
Mon – Thurs 11 – 8, Fri & Sat 11 – 9
$4 – $29, with most entrees averaging about $10.