Written by Jillian Netherland | Photography by Brewster Burns
It’s not easy keeping a business alive and successful in a small town, but there’s no doubt that one couple has found a way to attract locals and out-of-towners alike to their restaurant. Love for food, family, and community are the perfect ingredients for success at Village Pizzeria in Mechanic Falls.
Big city flavor, small town flare
“I first met my husband when I was in nursing school,” tells Lori Nikas, co-owner of Village Pizzeria Restaurant & Lounge with her husband, Stan. “I went to the restaurant where he worked making all the crust and sauce for the pizza. It was amazing! I kept going back.”
It was at this restaurant in Nashua, New Hampshire, Stan learned and perfected his recipes, some of which would become customer favorites at Village Pizzeria. This initial love for Stan’s pizza soon became a love for each other, and Lori joined Stan in his lifelong dream of owning his own restaurant.
“We had been working with a stockbroker, and the gentleman advising us mentioned he knew someone selling a restaurant in Mechanic Falls, Maine,” Lori recalls. “We visited to check it out and ended up purchasing it.”
On December 7, 2002, Lori and Stan officially opened Village Pizzeria in an old antique building in Mechanic Falls, but always had their eye on a building around the corner where a pharmacy was held.
“We absolutely adored the building the pharmacy was in,” Lori recalls. “I remember walking in together and telling the pharmacist that we would love to own the building one day when he was finished with it.”
Five years later, the Nikases got their wish and transformed the pharmacy into the new Village Pizzeria Restaurant & Lounge. December 2022 marked 20 years in business and 15 years in their dream building.
While Stan’s homemade pizza is renowned throughout New England, calling the restaurant a pizzeria may be slightly deceiving.
A pizzeria and so much more
“The pizza is our claim to fame, but our menu offers so much more,” Lori shares, stating that their fresh Maine seafood options, such as the baked haddock and seafood platter, are two of their most popular dishes. “Customers love the soups and chowders that Stan makes daily, as well as his famous twice-baked potatoes.”
Other fan favorites include the House White Pizza, topped with fresh tomatoes, garlic, feta, broccoli, and mozzarella, the traditional chicken parmesan, and anything including steak tips – dinner, salad, or sub. These customer go-to’s all arrive in generous portions – even children’s (or adult) favorites, such as chicken fingers – ensuring no customer ever leaves hungry.
Village Pizzeria also proudly boasts freshly baked rolls, daily soup specials such as chicken lemon rice, rotating entrees, an array of delectable desserts that change with the seasons, such as peanut butter balls and the occasional chocolate mousse. A fully stocked bar, for guests aged 21 and over, is available – make sure you ask about the drink special.
Big city recipes with small town heart
While it’s undeniable that Mechanic Falls is vastly different from the cities where Stan and Lori previously were acquainted, owning a restaurant in a small town versus a larger city has its charms and benefits, particularly when it comes to family – those with and without blood relation.
“The locals are wonderful,” Lori says, with affection in her voice. “We have regulars that I see every day – some more often than my own family.”
Time with family is the biggest reason Lori left the nursing career trajectory to join her husband on the path to business ownership.
“We had to do it together,” she explains. “If I had stayed in nursing, our schedules would have never allowed us to see each other. It was important to him, his dream, so I joined that route with him.”
Twenty years later, Lori and Stan run the business like a well-oiled machine. Each day, Lori preps the pizza dough and handles the schedule while Stan orders and cooks his recipes – some of which, like the twice-baked potatoes, can only be prepared by him. The one difference in the family work dynamic from the early days of the business, though, is that the Nikases daughter, Athina, now joins them two days each week.
“Athina started helping out after school when COVID hit,” Lori explains. “We had to send our employees home to keep them safe, but we were still answering take-out orders the entire time. She loves the family business, and having her there with us has been a huge help.”
The power of community
Between their close-knit family dynamic and strong rapport with their customer base, it comes as no surprise that Village Pizzeria is heavily involved with their community as a whole, between sponsoring local sports teams, donating to fundraisers, and providing for hungry families where they can. Hosting birthday and holiday parties to supporting school fundraisers and the local fire association, Village Pizzeria is truly immersed in all aspects of their community. Perhaps their strongest relationship is with Short Folks for Hope Foundation, an organization Lori says will always help in any way.
“We’ve co-hosted several events with Short Folks for Hope, like a Princess Party at the Pizzeria,” Lori shares. “My favorite event was during COVID when they were looking for a way to help locals combat feelings of isolation while keeping them safe. We shut down the pizzeria to hold a private lasagna dinner so they could feel like they were out in public again, but without the risks.”
As the Nikas family looks towards the future with Village Pizzeria, their hope is not much to change.
“It’s a hard job, for certain. There’s nothing easy about it,” Lori confides. “However, it’s also an amazing job. I love working with my family and seeing our regulars, even during stressful times. I hope to be here for as long as we can.”
Village Pizzeria Restaurant & Lounge
16 Pleasant Street, Mechanic Falls