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Iconic Vancouver restaurateur passes away

The owner of one of Vancouver's longest running restaurants has passed.

For more than 60 years Nick Felicella helmed his restaurant Nick's Spaghetti House on Commercial Drive, over time becoming an institution to residents in the neighbourhood and across the city.

Felicella passed away this weekend. His nephew, Guy Felicella, made the announcement Sunday, Jan. 22, and an outpouring of love followed, across social media platforms. Among those who celebrated Felicella was, Pepino's, the restaurant that took over the location Nick's was in for 62 years.

"We owe a debt of gratitude to Nick for establishing such an iconic locale for “red sauce” Italian in Vancouver’s Little Italy," they wrote online. "He left huge shoes to fill and his legacy will live on in the hearts and bellies of all who passed through the front door of his restaurant."

"Raise a glass to Nick!"

Pillar for decades

"I was sad to hear of his passing, but a long life well lived," says local historian Aaron Chapman.

"You won't see characters like him, necessarily, again," he adds.

Chapman, who's researching for a book on the city's restaurant scene, says Nick's and Felicella were a tradition for those who lived in East Vancouver.

"Nick himself as a person was quite well-liked. He wasn't a stern guy, he was happy to see you," says Chapman, who met Felicella on several occasions as Nick's was a favourite interview location for old gangsters and retired cops Chapman was talking to for other books on Vancouver's history.

In more recent years, before it closed in 2017, going to Nick's was like stepping back into an old version of Vancouver.

"It's quite incredible because a lot of Vancouver restaurants, even some of the best, don't last that long," Chapman says, noting many of the most lauded names only last 10 or 15 years, while Nick's, founded in 1955, "survived it all."

"There was nothing innovative or trendsetting there, it was just done well at a decent price," he adds.

And Felicella was at the centre of it.

"He was one of those guys probably happiest working and holding court in that restaurant," Chapman says, noting Felicella was a hard worker and spent long hours dedicated to his restaurant.

He also knew regulars by name, and their kids in some cases.

"You don't see somebody as personable as he was," he says.

Nick's and Felicella weren't a flashy tourist draw, Chapman explains, but a staple in the city that people from all over the Metro area would head to Commercial Drive for. He adds that he hopes Felicalla knew how important he was to the city.

"I don't know if he knew, Nick himself, that he and his business was so well-liked, that there was that affection there," he says.

But, he notes, Felicella was a humble man and may have known, or had he known he may have told people to forget it with the effusive comments.

"We don't always salute places like Nick's," says Chapman of the restaurant and the man. "When it's around that long it has an impact and a pedigree all its own."