Independent burger joints are the soul of this business. If they’re run like Nicky D’s in Crowley, Texas, they’re its heart as well. During National Burger Month it’s important that some attention be paid to that heart and soul.
Originally, Nicky D’s was in Chicago, where both Nick and Tammy Danelski’s fathers had relocated their families. Appropriately, they met working together in a restaurant. “Nick was my boss,” Tammy explains. “He actually fired me so he could ask me out because the rules of the restaurant were ‘No dating employees.’ We dated for two weeks, got engaged and we got married six weeks later. It was quick but it has worked out well. We’ve always worked together well.”
Chicago winters being what they are, the couple soon decided to relocate to Texas, where Tammy was born (Nick is from Kansas). Nicky D’s in Crowley opened in 2003 (in a former gas station/c-store). Tammy says people come back because they love Nick’s burgers (and his meatloaf) and because of the restaurant’s family feel. “You’re in my house. I don’t care who they are, all our customers are treated like they’re in my house. That’s the way we want to be treated,” Tammy says.
She calls herself “a big mom,” which helps explain why Nicky D’s doesn’t serve beer or wine. “We wanted more of a family atmosphere and I don’t want people here drinking and then putting kids in their cars,” she says. “It’s a personal decision.”
What Nicky D’s does have is burgers. Big Angus beef burgers; as in a standard 8-oz. patty. Even the Angus hot dogs are quarter- or half-pounders. The $7.95 BIG Bacon Cheeseburger is the top seller.
“You can talk about diets, and we have salads, but my customers, 90% of them or so, want big food. We get oil well workers here,” Tammy says. But the mom in her often recommends that diners order the $5.50 quarter-pound Baby Burger. “If they’re in for lunch and eat a huge burger and fries they’re not going to want to eat dinner, and then their wife will get mad and call me. And that’s happened.
“We get yelled at more about serving too much food than anything else. But Nick wants to be sure everyone’s happy when they leave and that’s just the way he does it.”
Over the years, the restaurant has tried adding various other entrees to the menu, but “burgers take over every time. Nick is so picky about his beef, and people just love his burgers.”
The menu also has corn dogs, chicken strips, sandwiches (including BBQ bologna, grilled chicken and grilled cheese), fountain drinks, shakes and ice cream. Afflicted with food allergies herself, Tammy says they’re happy to do whatever a customer needs to have a great meal.
Nicky D’s served breakfast for the first nine years it was open. “I’m an awesome breakfast cook,” Tammy says. “But my legs couldn’t handle the hours anymore and I couldn’t find a cook good enough to do breakfast the way I wanted, so we closed it.”
Both of them work so hard to ensure that everything in the front and back of the house is run just the way they like and just the way to make customers happy that they’ve deflected all queries about franchising the brand. “We’ve chickened out every time because we don’t want to lose control over the food you get when you come in,” she says. “People don’t necessarily run things the way you want them to run. You want [the restaurant] to be comfortable and a lot of people don’t get that.”
Maybe they’ll consider opening a second location, she says, but only after her last son graduates from college and decides what he wants to do. If there’s another Nicky D’s, you can bet it will be family run. And it will be run to Nick and Tammy Danelski’s high standards. Nicky D’s has to be not just good but the best, she says, because it’s located a few miles outside Crowley.
“We’re farther out, so I tell everyone [on staff] we have to be better than everyone else,” Tammy says. “Even if we make the best food in the world, our customer service has to be better. Everything we do has to be better so we can keep going. We always have so far.”