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Nic’s Place: Old World dining charm in Manteca

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Nic’s Place: Old World dining charm in Manteca

Nic’s Place owner Nicole Didion, right, with her staff LaToya Brown and Jose Herrera.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED August 28, 2013 1:03 a.m.

Though the restaurant from her youth has been closed for years, the principles thrive in Downtown Manteca.

If Nicole Didion’s old bosses could see her now, they’d probably flash her an approving smile – and then order her tri-tip sandwich with a side of soup.

Didion is the owner of Nic’s Place, a cozy corner-store cafe along Manteca’s Center Street that draws on Old-World charm. Amid the big-screen television and stunning bar are simple ideals that build value into a business: friendship, conversation and above-and-beyond service.

Nic’s Place recently celebrated its first anniversary – a major milestone for a first-time owner like Didion.

“We’ve only gotten better and we’ve made a lot of great friends and regulars,” said Didion, a Banta resident and longtime restaurateur. “Manteca has been good to us. It’s been a good experience so far.

“I’ve been in the restaurant business for years now, but I’ve always run somebody else’s business. This opportunity presented itself and it was a good opportunity.”

Nic’s Place is a nod to the diners, cafes and restaurants that spawned Didion’s foray into ownership. She began working as a 21-year-old server at the now-defunct Sandwichery in Oakland, her hometown.

It was there that she learned the value in fresh food, a familiar face and a smile. She would apply those principles to each job she would take along the way, from a stint in the renowned Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley to the nearby Banta Inn.

“I’ve done everything in the restaurant business, from fine dining to slinging hash at little diners. I worked for the culinary giants in the Bay Area,” she said. “Fine dining is nice, but I really like the more casual atmosphere where I can get to know my customers and talk to them. Less formal is more appealing to me. Hopefully, at the same time, I’m giving them a good feeling and a great dining experience.”

Though the Sandwichery has been closed for years, Didion returned to its old location along Park Boulevard in Oakland. She marveled at the similarities her first and last jobs shared – the casual ambiance, the homemade soups and fresh produce.

Though Nic’s Place is still in its infancy, she says it feels like she’s been growing the business for years because so much of her experience and ideals are rooted in the Sandwichery.

“It was interesting because I recently went back there and looked at the space,” she said. “In some ways it reflects what we’re doing here. I learned a lot of the basics there.”

Nic’s Place has no shortage of friends. Its Facebook page features about 300 friends and it rates well on Yelp.

Good food tends to have that effect.

The menu was created by Didion and chef Jose Herrera, former coworkers at the Banta Inn. Customer favorites include the pork sandwich with Ortega chiles, the tri-tip and salads.

Nic’s Place also offers carne asada tacos on Tuesdays, a breakfast menu, a wine and beer bar, food specials and homemade soup daily, and later hours for Monday and Thursday night NFL football games.

“I’d like (Nic’s Place) to stay right where it is,” she said, “and thrive. ... I like that it’s in the downtown area. I like Downtown Manteca. It’s got a nice feel to it.”

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