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No stranger to Nichols Hills Plaza: Chef set to open third restaurant in shopping center
Chef Jonathon Stranger said his new Italian concept, Osteria, might be his best one yet.
After all, he and Chef Fabio Viviani have had 18 months to figure out the restaurant’s menu and operations. They were waiting for Starbucks to move into its new location on NW 63rd Street, behind Nichols Hills Plaza.
Stranger and Viviani said in February 2017 they were going to create Osteria, and they signed a lease in May of that year. They thought they’d be in the 6430 Avondale Dr. space in January 2018, but Starbucks’ construction fell behind, so the chefs waited. They were finally able to start demolition in July.
Osteria opens Nov. 17 with dinner service only and will be closed on Mondays. In 2019, the restaurant will be open daily for lunch and dinner.
Allford Hall Monaghan Morris architect Wade Scaramucci designed the restaurant and Key Construction is renovating the space. Key’s Oklahoma City vice president, Bryce Thompson, said the company is hustling to meet the deadline. Stranger plans to start training his staff on Friday.
This is Stranger’s third concept in Nichols Hills Plaza. Osteria joins En Croute, which opened in December 2016, and St. Mark’s Chop Room, which opened in late 2017. There’s a fourth eatery in the works, which will be Italian as well.
“It’s easy to keep an eye on all the concepts,” Stranger said. “Plus, this corner is an iconic location in Nichols Hills Plaza.”
The restaurant is another page in the Nichols Hills Plaza comeback story. Chesapeake Energy, under the leadership of the late Aubrey McClendon, purchased Nichols Hills Plaza in 2006. The company also developed Classen Curve and The Triangle at Classen Curve.
The plaza’s Crescent Market closed in 2011 and other shops followed. Crescent had 10,000 square feet in the shopping center, which is now filled by Trader Joe’s.
Glimcher Realty Trust purchased the three properties in 2014, and later that year Washington Prime Group acquired Glimcher.
Since the ownership change, Nichols Hills Plaza has been filled with a variety of retailers, ranging from Pure Barre to Provision Kitchen. Trader Joe’s opened in the center on Sept. 23, 2016.
The center is one of a few revenue sources for the city of Nichols Hills. City Manager Shane Pate said the city also gets sales and use taxes from the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club and construction materials. Those materials’ taxes are returned to the city where they are delivered.
The city collected $330,828 in sales taxes in October 2018, which is a 32 percent increase from November 2016, when the sales tax collection was $250,714.
Pate said the city shows the tax collection in fiscal year 2017-2018 was up about 22 percent compared to the previous fiscal year. This fiscal year, sales tax collections continue to show an increase compared to the previous year.
With the extra money in FY-18, the city was able to lower its water rate by 10 cents per 1,000 gallons. The city couldn’t reduce the water rate as much as it would have liked because the workers’ compensation cost increased, Pate said.
Also in FY-18, employees were given wage increases to put the city more on par with municipal-employee wages in the rest of the area. Pate said a study of comparable positions showed the city’s staff was making at least 6 percent less than other cities’ employees. The City Council has also been able to give staff bonuses because of an unexpected higher amount in budget revenue.
He said the city still budgets conservatively even though activity at Nichols Hills Plaza is increasing.
“With all the new businesses opening up, we’re pretty optimistic about what the future will hold,” Pate said. “We hope to have another water rate reduction.”
Nichols Hills Mayor Peter Hoffman has served in the position four times in the last 12 years. When he’s not mayor, he’s still on the City Council. During those 12 years, he saw the decline in sales taxes as the plaza went vacant. He commended the city staff and council for being fiscally responsible with the money.
“That was a very difficult time pre-Trader Joe’s,” he said. “Now, we’re on the other side. It’s remarkable and wonderful to see what’s happened at the plaza and surrounding areas.”
He said even though Trader Joe’s newness might have worn off, people are still going back to the store for its pleasant experience. And when people come to Trader Joe’s, they’re able to find more retailers in the plaza, thanks to the work of Washington Prime.
“The economic transformation that’s happening in and around the plaza is unprecedented,” he said.
While Hoffman said he was grateful for what Washington Prime has done to recruit retailers in the short time that it has owned the three centers, he said he was personally thankful to the late McClendon for his idea for the centers.
“He had the vision, willingness, and courage to go forward with putting this together with the idea that it would bring people from far and wide to live here, shop here, and play here,” Hoffman said.
When people come to shop at Nichols Hills, Stranger and Viviani will be ready to fill their bellies with from-scratch Italian food. Viviani hails from Florence, Italy. Stranger said Osteria is bringing the Italian way of cooking to Nichols Hills. They’re going to use what goods are local and make other items such as pasta, gelato, and pizza dough from scratch.
Stranger isn’t straying from his goal to make high-end food approachable either, he said. Dishes will range from $12 to $30.
As he looked across the kitchen that was under construction on Tuesday, Stranger said it’s been nice to finally hit some milestones with Osteria. The first was seeing the Starbucks torn out, then seeing the kitchen be completed.
“At this point, it’s nice to see it all come together,” he said.