EXETER — For a pair of local siblings, an unexpected career shift and a knack for cooking and entertaining led to a shared business venture.
Nicole and Matt Skesavage, both originally from West Pittston, opened The Kitchen by Nikki in November. The humble Exeter establishment holds only six tables for dining in, but the big flavor of the restaurant’s high quality sandwiches and cafe fare is drawing a growing clientele.
“It’s all been word of mouth,” Nicole Skesavage, now a Dickson City resident, said about the escalating dine-in and take-out traffic The Kitchen has received as she sat at one of her own tables in the dining room.
Formerly a 16-year employee of AT&T, Nicole Skesavage worked her way up the corporate ladder at area locations before becoming a major accounts marketing agent and working out of the Lancaster market where her fiance, Steve Armstrong, was also employed by the company.
“My department was eliminated,” Nicole Skesavage said of her reason for leaving the industry. “I wanted to come back here.”
Growing up, she said, she, her brother and her parents would often cook and entertain for friends and relatives. In Lancaster, she and Armstrong catered for neighbors and co-workers. And Matt, although employed in a different industry, had a solid reputation cooking at the Lithuanian Club in Pittston.
“I was doing concrete, and it wasn’t ever busy in the winter,” Matt Skesavage, still a resident of West Pittston, chimed in from the kitchen. “Now I can stay busy all year.”
In reaction to their years of hospitality, Nicole Skesavage said, the trio — Armstrong is also a partner in the business — received encouragement from their inner circles to open a restaurant.
“We got a lot of positive feedback from friends and family,” she said. “We said, ‘We just need to open a small place.’”
The place, located at 1303 Wyoming Ave., is quickly becoming known for a few of its specialty items — including hoagies, cheesesteaks and boneless chicken bites — but also features fresh salads, craving-satisfying appetizers and hearty grill items.
“Our main focus (in the beginning) was the bites,” Nicole Skesavage said. “Matt makes all of the wing sauces. He created our Kitchen’s Secret Sauce, and you can mix and match the sauces any way you like. We sell a lot of the secret sauce and our hot and mild ranch.”
Refraining from selling pizza in a pizza-heavy market was a no-brainer, Nicole Skesavage said, but it was important to the business partners to offer top-shelf subs.
“All of our lunch meat is Boar’s Head,” she said. “Our bread is phenomenal, and besides the subs on our menu, we also offer hot and mild Grab and Go hoagies for $4 every day.”
In addition to Italian, turkey and roast beef options, The Kitchen offers The Warrior, a combination of ham, turkey and roast beef with pickles, Swiss and provolone cheeses and chipotle sauce.
“We wanted to have something that was geared toward (Wyoming Area High School),” Nicole Skesavage said of the sandwich named after the school’s mascot. “So we asked kids, some of my nephew’s friends, and that’s how we came up with The Warrior.”
The cheesesteaks, the owners said, are big sellers because of the quality of meat and cheese used to build the sandwiches, although they won’t comment further on the proprietary ingredients. And their french fries are bringing people into the establishment as well.
“Our Jersey Shore Fries are a thick-cut fry seasoned with sea salt and pepper,” Nicole Skesavage said. “But our Fresh Cut Fries with Malt Vinegar are our signature fries, because you can’t get those anywhere else.”
Nicole and Matt Skesavage share cooking duties, with Nicole taking on the salad and sandwich preparation and Matt operating the flat-top for the hot subs and other grill items and the fryer for fries and bites.
The siblings work well together, Nicole Skesavage said.
“We have our moments,” she added with a laugh.
The Kitchen is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“The only complaint we get is we’re not open on weekends, but weekends are coming,” Nicole Skesavage said. “Everybody loves the food. That’s the only complaint.”
The Kitchen features daily lunch specials, which are posted on the establishment’s Facebook page, facebook.com/thekitchenbynikki.
“I just try to come up with random (dishes),” Nicole Skesavage said. “I’ll be driving in and come up with something. This week, for example, I featured a ham, apple, cheddar grilled cheese on Texas toast.”
In addition to their dine-in and take-out service, the restaurant also offers catering.
The Skesavage siblings have an appreciation for working in the restaurant industry that is so ingrained in Northeastern Pennsylvania culture, in which they were raised to view entertaining others as an honor and a privilege.
“You take pride in what you make,” Nicole Skesavage said. “When people order something consistently, you know you’re doing something right.”
And Exeter seems as pleased to have The Kitchen as The Kitchen is to be in Exeter.
“When we opened, people from Exeter Proud (a neighborhood advocacy group) came to welcome us,” Armstrong said. “They even posted about it on their Facebook page, because they want to bring business back to the neighborhood.”