by Alison Bailey
Michelle Nurmi, co-owner of Uptown Grill on Capitol Way South, was on the fence when she toured the restaurant and bar formerly known as Tipsy in February 2020. An Olympia resident for over 25 years, Michelle had been working as a CFO in major Seattle restaurants for 30 years. Sick of the commute and ready to live out a long-time dream, she was seriously considering taking the plunge with restaurant ownership.
Michelle asked her close friend Pedro Gallegos, a seasoned chef in the Seattle restaurant scene, to check out the kitchen and share his opinion. Pedro thought the space had serious potential, so when Michelle started to lean away from the idea, Pedro offered to make it a joint effort. With the prospect of co-ownership and a trusted friend leading the kitchen, Michelle was all-in without hesitation.
Uptown Grill opened their doors on July 1, 2020, when Thurston County restaurants were permitted to operate at 50% capacity indoors. Michelle and Pedro were able to take advantage of the City of Olympia’s Simplified Sidewalk program and expand their outdoor dining area’s footprint. This became critical to their survival in November when temperatures cooled and COVID cases spiked. Indoor dining was once again prohibited.
Their neighbors to the south, Batdorf and Bronson’s Dancing Goats coffee bar, offered the sidewalk space in front of their shop after 4:00 p.m. when they close. This brought Uptown’s outdoor table count to six. Michelle went to every length to make sure her brave guests could be as comfortable as possible. “I even got two big heaters from my dad for Christmas,” Michelle laughs.
“All things considered, it’s gone well,” Michelle goes on. “The community has been wonderful. We’ve met so many new people. Everyone is very supportive.” Michelle and Pedro were in a unique and tricky situation as new business owners. They opened after the pandemic had already started and were not eligible for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans or grants. With support from the community, they’ve continued to do well. They currently employ a ten-person team and plan to expand as soon as they can.
Michelle and Pedro are relieved to be open for indoor dining at 25% capacity and look forward to returning to 50% soon. While they could keep the business afloat with a menu well adapted to take out orders and a loyal new fanbase of patrons, a bustling indoor restaurant environment is what they both live for.
“At 25% capacity, we have about eight indoor tables and four outdoor tables,” Michelle says. “We also have an area upstairs with one table for those who want to dine out but who are particularly concerned with social distancing.”
Uptown Grill is one of Olympia’s most exciting new dining establishments. “We’re an all-scratch kitchen,” Michelle explains.
You can tell she’s proud of the work her friend Pedro does. “Everything we serve except our pasta is made from scratch. Sauces, dressings, hand-cut fries.”
One of their best sellers this winter has been a chicken pot pie with a flaky hand-made crust. They offer prime rib dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.
“We’re constantly changing out our menu,” Michelle says. “Pedro likes to come up with new specials and change things up.”
They recently added a section of grain bowls, including a Mediterranean steak option and a salmon and vegetable option, among several others.
They offer everything from pasta dishes and salads to tacos and Spanish black beans and rice. “It’s a big menu!” Michelle says with a smile. There are also plenty of vegan and gluten-free options available.
Uptown Grill is not to be missed for anyone in town who loves a craft cocktail or a pour of an interesting liquor. “We have one of the biggest selections of liquor in all of Olympia with over 300 varieties,” Michelle boasts. Perhaps most excitingly of all, they offer a Happy Hour menu with drinks and snacks all day, every day.
Their hours are currently 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Although they are not taking reservations, you are welcome to give them a call about ten minutes before you expect to arrive, and they can stake out the next available table for you.
Visit uptowngrill514.com to check out their menu, or give them a call at 360-338-0340 if you’re headed in for a bite!