It was a sunny morning on Lopez Island, Aug 23, 2001. Jeff Nichols and the staff of The Galley Restaurant and Lounge were scurrying around making sure everything was set for The Galley’s reopening under new management. Jeff was nervous. Not entirely confident that The Galley was ready for business – especially at the height of tourist season – he had been soft-selling the restaurant’s opening, telling friends to maybe wait a few weeks before coming in for a meal. Despite Jeff’s advice, the restaurant was packed. Every table was full. As he entered the dining room with a tray full of food to serve a large round table of guests, Jeff was very quiet. He started dispensing plates of food, looking straight down at the table. As he was serving, one person stood up and started slowly clapping. Then another. And another. Before he knew it, everybody in the restaurant was giving Jeff and his team a standing ovation.
That, in a nutshell, is Lopez Island. “People come to Lopez for the beauty; they stay for the community.” This is what Jeff said after telling me the story about The Galley’s opening day in 2001 – a story similar to so many other stories about the people of Lopez. Jeff has been a part of many of those stories in his 41 years on the island.
Jeff and Kim Nichols moved to Lopez in 1974. On an extended vacation from San Francisco, they initially had no intention of moving here. But, after three weeks, “it felt like we knew everybody on the island,” said Jeff as he recounted those first days on Lopez. So he and Kim decided to try something new and make it their permanent home, raising two kids, Andy and Laine, who still live on Lopez. Not surprisingly, things were a bit different on Lopez back then. For starters, there was no such thing as an organic grocery store.
“I was part of a younger wave of people,” Jeff told me as he described the Lopez of the 70s. “The old-time Lopezians were welcoming and curious about younger folks moving to Lopez,” he continued. A young Jeff had a lot of new ideas, which he wanted to put into practice on his new island home. One of those ideas was to start providing organic vegetables on the island. In 1977, Jeff, after having spent a few years working at Lopez Village Market, opened Blossom Grocery, which in those days was located in the building where the Bay Cafe now stands. At Blossom, Jeff was the first on the island to sell whole bean coffee (Starbucks), among many other items that had never been available. Soon after that, Jeff opened the New Bay Cafe, which back then was simply a lunch counter attached to Blossom. After a while, Jeff sold Blossom to Deborah Bonneville (who later sold it to the Kvistads) and went on to manage LVM in 1989, where he worked until buying The Galley in 2001.
Jeff’s propensity to try something new on Lopez has continued at The Galley, which over the years has become known as “Lopez Island’s living room.” The restaurant and bar serve as a gallery for local artists, including Jeff’s daughter Laine, whose art adorns several of the Galley’s walls, including the signature mermaid painting, “Harpy,” currently hanging in The Galley’s Hi-Boat Room. Jeff is a huge music fan, regularly hosting an eclectic mix of artists – including acts like Pearl Django. Posters promoting bands’ Galley gigs decorate some of the walls in the lounge. These band nights, and every holiday – from Halloween to New Year’s Eve – are celebrated in unique Galley fashion.
Jeff’s willingness to experiment and have fun extends to the Galley’s marketing efforts. Last year, Kim had an idea to get Lopezians doing scavenger hunts around the island by posting photos of obscure Lopez places on the Galley’s Facebook page. The first person to correctly identify and name the specific location would receive a 2-4-1 discount on their next Galley purchase. If you check out the challenges on Facebook (go back to early 2014), you’ll see it was a pretty popular (and competitive) program. All of The Galley’s ideas are creative, if not popular. Jeff told me about the year the island was overrun with daffodils; he offered another 2-4-1 discount for anybody who’d bring in a bouquet of freshly picked daffodils. Not one person brought in a single flower. Jeff’s still scratching his head about that one.
If you haven’t been into The Galley, pay Jeff, Kim and the team a visit. If you’ve visited, but not in a while, stop back in. Maybe even give them a standing ovation. They deserve it.