Resiliency is an asset that’s helped restauranters keep the lights on and the ovens warm, never more so than in the age of Covid-19. But For Nick Palmieri, Covid was the second of a one-two punch. Just a year before the pandemic began, his father, Gateano Palmeri, the eponymous owner of Gaetano’s Ristorante in Henderson, Nevada, died suddenly.
Nick had worked side by side with his father every day. “After he passed, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is real now.’ I’ve got to step it up,” says Palmieri. “I felt like the weight of the restaurant was on my shoulders.”
Nick relied on all he learned growing up in the business, starting at his father’s first restaurant in California. “My father didn’t believe in giving me and my brothers allowances, so we had to work in the restaurant. We did everything from cleaning toilets to food preparation to bussing tables to waiting on tables. You name it, I’ve done it.”
And he learned the hospitality skills that kept guests coming back year after year. “In this industry, it’s imperative to be there for the customers. The art of customer service has been lost over the years. I enjoy people’s company and when they come to eat here, I want them to feel like family.”
Nick just didn’t continue his father’s legacy. He took it from “old school” to a restaurant “on steroids.” Think of it as Gaetano’s 2.0. “I’m always thinking, ‘What can I do better tomorrow?’”
He upgraded an outdated computer system and jumped into social media in a big way, engaging customers online, through texts and email marketing. “We’re a local, family-owned fine dining restaurant. We don’t have the marketing budgets like the casinos and corporate restaurants. Customer engagement is very important for us, and our business increased probably 30% because of that.”
To be a restaurateur is to embrace a way of life. To be a success at it, you have to be all in.Palmeri, who is also a certified spirits expert and member of the Las Vegas Chapter of the United States Bartending Guild, is as comfortable crafting a specialty drink, like his famous Sicilian Old Fashioned, as he is whipping up his grandmother’s recipe for eggplant rollatini.
What makes him happy is simple. “Making guests happy,” he says. And making them feel like they got value.”
Like father, like son.
Why Mercer Culinary
“You’ll never meet a chef with a dull knife. In the kitchen, you’re constantly cutting. You’re constantly prepping. You’re constantly deboning. You can get generic knives, but they won’t last. When you have a high grade, precision knife that’s good in the hand—it’s night and day.”