Nicholas Mario "Nick" Uricchio, the local restaurateur known for bringing Beverly Hills sophistication to downtown Bakersfield through Uricchio's Trattoria, died Sunday. He was 87.
His 17th Street restaurant, which he and son Steve opened June 1, 1995 by maxing out 34 credit cards to raise $150,000, helped spur a downtown resurgence at a time when the area's negative reputation kept many people away.
Uricchio's was an immediate hit when it opened because it felt like a noisy party, and there was no place like it downtown at the time.
It also became one of the city's favorite spots for a business lunch. Customers say Uricchio would monitor the restaurant's operation from the same seat at the end of his bar, invariably dressed in a suit and tie.
"He brought class to Bakersfield," said bartender Ken Zimmermann.
From the start, Uricchio kept people entertained with his stories of serving Dean Martin dinner every night at a Beverly Hills restaurant, not to mention the amazing collection of black-and-white photographs featuring him with virtually everyone who was anyone in the entertainment business from the 1960s through the '80s. He was the original photobomber.
Uricchio had operated three restaurants in his home state of Connecticut before moving to California in the 1960s. By 1968 he was managing food and beverages at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where his duties catering Hollywood award ceremonies put him in regular contact with entertainment stars.
He continued to rub elbows with celebrities after taking a position as head of the kitchen at the Friars Club of Beverly Hills, a position he held from 1985 to 1994.
Photos of him with Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle and former President Ronald Reagan, among many other well-known celebrities and politicians, still decorate the walls of the restaurant now run and owned by one of his four children, Claire Uricchio.
But the restaurateur's most enduring legacy, perhaps, is what Uricchio did to inspire other small business owners to follow his lead, injecting life into what was then a dreary downtown. He blazed a trail for T.L. Maxwell's, The Mark, the Padre, Muertos and Enso -- all restaurants that deserve credit for reinvigorating the city's heart, though they can't say they were first.
"He was a restaurateur through and through," said son Steve, who remembered his father as being a great cook. "His thing was, 'The best, no less.'"
In recent years other family members took over the burden of the day-to-day operation, but by then the glue that held the restaurant together and kept regulars coming had been established by the jovial man eating his daily plate of pasta at the front table.
"He was old school," recalled longtime customer, Bruce Blythe. "He was well-liked, and he took care of his customers."
Nick Uricchio suffered from Parkinson's disease and respiratory problems. His health declined after the death of his wife, Phyllis, in 2012.
He died in a local nursing home while watching pro football on television, Steve said.
In addition to his son Steve, and daughter Claire, Uricchio is survived by a son, Nick, a daughter, Lisa, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Steve Uricchio said funeral arrangements are pending.