Nello’s Place Italian Cuisine in Redding
By Jon Lewis
By Jon Lewis
Photos by Eric Leslie
Jim Dad, the owner of Nello’s Place, doesn’t need to go online to find out what customers think.
Yelp and other sites are the latest way to share precious word-of-mouth advertising, but if Dad is out working the floor, it’s a good bet he’s already received the reviews. If there’s a problem, “I try to take care of it right on the spot,” he says. “I learned from my father-in-law: Be sure to take care of people before they go out that door.”
Dad’s father-in-law was Nello Miele, a longtime restaurateur who opened Nello’s Place in May 1982, four months before Dad, a skinny kid from Yuba City, started bussing tables at the restaurant. Some 35 years later, Dad, who married Miele’s daughter, Rosa, is still putting in long hours at Nello’s.
Dad was able to work alongside Miele for 16 years until his death in 1998. Miele’s wife, Tomiko, passed away the following year. Dad used that opportunity to learn everything he could about the restaurant business, working as a busboy, server, host and, for the last seven years, as a cook.
Dad says mastering the 70 dishes on the Nello’s menu has been the most challenging job of all. He also knows the kitchen is the heart and soul of any restaurant, which helps explain why Nello’s remains one of the few restaurants in Redding where reservations are highly recommended.
Chicken allegro, scampi in garlic sauce, veal scallopini marsala, veal piccata and steak Diane are just a few of the popular entrees, Dad says, along with just about all of the steaks, chops and seafood grilled over mesquite coals.
Tableside cooking, which Dad says is quickly becoming a lost art, is another popular feature at Nello’s. Each server is adept at preparing steak Diane, bananas flambé and cherries jubilee, each with an exuberant flourish of flame. Nello’s also is well known for the Caesar salads tossed at tableside.
With its booths upholstered in red leather, linen tablecloths, subdued lighting and vintage crooners like Frank Sinatra on the sound system, Nello’s offers a distinctive old-school vibe that makes it a must-visit for anniversaries, prom nights and other special occasions. New Year’s Eve is the restaurant’s busiest night, followed by Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
Two large murals were saved during a 1989 fire that came close to destroying the restaurant. One depicts Naples, Italy, the birthplace of Miele, and the other is an image of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Dad says Miele always had a sentimental connection with San Francisco, where he managed the D’oro restaurant before moving to Redding.
The path Dad took to Nello’s is a little less straightforward. Dad’s father left his native Pakistan when he joined the Royal Navy and managed to survive World War II at sea, despite the crippling losses inflicted by German U-boats. After “jumping ship” and settling in San Francisco, the elder Dad married and ultimately settled in Yuba City and became a farmer.
When the elder Dad’s wife left, the father sent the younger Dad and his siblings to Pakistan to be cared for by their grandmother. Dad lived in Pakistan from age 3 to 13 before rejoining his father on the farm. High school was challenging, Dad says, especially since he had an extremely limited command of the English language.
High school sports became his refuge and he was active in track, basketball and soccer, but his favorite was tennis. That affinity paid off a few years later when Dad’s father passed away and the father of Dad’s then-girlfriend invited the young high school graduate to Redding.
A quick survey of the abundant natural resources nearby convinced Dad that he had made a good move. “I saw all the lakes and creeks and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is heaven,’” Dad says. He enrolled at Shasta College and soon met the first of two men who had the biggest influence on his life: Jim Middleton, the tennis coach.
Middleton urged Dad to enroll in English classes, which led to a better command of the language and a growing sense of confidence. Dad, in turn, gave Middleton two years of competitive tennis that was good enough to land Dad an induction into the Shasta College Hall of Fame.
Miele, the other influential man in Dad’s life, led by example as he operated the popular restaurant. “I was a shy young kid and to see this guy greet people like that, and the way he would remember names and work the floor… when he taught me something, I’d pay attention because it was a lot better than farming,” Dad says with a wink and a smile. •
Nello’s Place • 3055 Bechelli Lane, Redding; (530) 223-1636
Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 5-9 pm; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 9:30 pm