Melted chocolate chips oozed from the steaming cookies, freshly plated out of the oven.
A cold glass of milk accompanied the dessert, and 11-year-old Anderson Neel licked his lips.
Sitting at a table in his father’s newly-opened Vickery Village restaurant, Nido Cafe, the boy and his friend scarfed down the cookies, along with an order of Nido’s chocolate fondue.
Though the restaurant offers coffee, breakfast, tapas and an assortment of Spanish wines, it boasts its chocolate creations, said Kevin Neel, co-owner and chief operations officer at Nido.
In part, the eatery follows in the footsteps of Neel’s previous restaurant, LaCrema Tapas and Chocolate, which was located in Rosemary Beach, Florida.
But Nido has its own identity, Neel said, and he hopes it becomes a community spot.
“The vibe I want in here is everybody kind of sits around and takes their time and it’s not a rushed experience,” he said. “I was pressing upon the staff when we first started: we’re not trying to turn tables. We want to enhance the experience.
“When you’re out with your friends, the last thing you want is for it to be over. You want the night to keep going and that’s what the tapas do. It allows you to eat a little bit, you get hungry, you eat a little bit more — everything takes five to eight minutes to cook. It’s a culture shift.”
The restaurant is modeled after a Spanish eatery, its dishes coming directly from Spain.
“We’re not in this to cut corners to make money — we want to make it authentic,” Neel said. “At LaCrema, once a year, my wife and I would go to Spain and we’d go there to eat and find cool things that maybe we think people would like and bring them back, show them to the cooks and see if they could execute it, and then when they got it right, we’d roll it out to the customers.
“If they liked it, we’d put it on the list for a little while and see how sales went and if they didn’t like it, get rid of it. So we’ve really refined our menu of all of our favorite things over seven years.”
Neel, a former mortgage banker, first got into the restaurant business in 2009, a year after the 2008 mortgage — and subsequent worldwide financial — crisis.
“That was my exit cue,” he said.
While he and his family loved Florida, the beach was becoming overcrowded and, having lived in Forsyth County previously, he knew how good the county’s school systems were.
With three children, two of middle and high school age, Neel and his wife decided to pack up and moved back to the county, to the Vickery area.
But the family didn’t cut ties with LaCrema until August, when Neel sold the business.
“I had nothing to do and I was kind of going crazy after that,” he said, laughing. “So I would work out, hang around, go get the mall, go to the bank … it was kind of lame. I did that from August until November and I’d see the owner of [this coffee shop] all the time and be like, ‘hey man, if you don’t want this coffee shop anymore, I’ll buy it from you,’ because it needed something.
“I was telling my buddies I was working out with that [restaurants are] a lot of work and they were like, ‘we can split the work between the three of us; if you want to buy it, try to get this guy to sell it to us.’ Every day, I would hit him up, ‘you want to sell it?’ Finally in December I came in one morning and he said ‘I think I will.’”
Neel and his partners, Jac Crawford and Bill Curis, kept Nido open as it was until January, when they closed it for renovations.
On Feb. 1, the restaurant opened again, revamped and renamed.
“Nido means nest, and we are perched over the village courtyard,” Neel said. “It’s appropriate for the setting, but a nest is also a place of comfort where friends and family can come hang out, and it’s definitely a nest.”
The restaurant, which boasts all Spanish wines except for one Malbec from Argentina, received its liquor license last month, which allowed Neel, Curis and Crawford to expand Nido to include dinner.
“In Europe, it’s like, ‘let’s go to the cafe and eat’ and you see groups and they’re happy and laughing,” Neel said. “That’s the goal here – that’s life.”