Meditations

Nicli Antica Pizzeria’s Bill McCaig wants to be your neighbour


Nicli Antica Pizzeria's Bill McCaig

Nicli Antica Pizzeria's Bill McCaig has big plans for his neighbourhood. (photo by Tyler Wilman)

I am getting sick to death of hearing people say how awesome Nicli Antica Pizzeria is. I get it already—their Neapolitan pizza is very good, and it’s so authentic it earned Vancouver’s first Vera Pizza Napolentana certification. They were listed on Westender’s Top 10 new restaurants list, then readers voted them as #1 on Scout Magazine’s list of Best New Restaurants, and now international restaurant guide Zagat.com has named them the best newcomer in their 2012 Vancouver Restaurants Survey—even The Globe And Mail’s Alexandra Gill has offered her endorsement of Nicli’s pizza. But seriously people, they don’t even cut your pizza for you! I mean really…

OK, I have a confession to make. I love Nicli, as do other Foodists. And the restaurant’s owner, Bill McCaig, and his wife Alison, have become friends whom I adore. To say that the McCaigs are passionate about high quality Italian food would be an understatement of the highest order. They’re nuts for it. And their rapid rise to the top of the food scene in Vancouver isn’t slowing them down either.

Nicli occupies half of a building, and the McCaigs are now working hard on their next project next door: a casual 16 seat eatery featuring authentic homemade pasta as well as a classic Italian deli.

The new restaurant will be named Vicino Pastaria & Deli, the name itself an expression of their commitment to their community as “vicino” means “neighbour” in Italian. Not only is this new spot literally the neighbour to its big brother Nicli, giving customers more options when yearning for an Italian fix, but the deli will serve as a market for their neighbours in Gastown, offering only the best in authentic Italian fare.

“Fresh filled and extruded dried pasta will be made on site using the best ingredients.” promises McCaig, “with cured meats, imported, local and some made in house available to enjoy on premises or for your table at home.” The plan is to not only curate a terrific retail selection of ingredients, but apply the same approach to quality and authenticity used next door at Nicli to create a suite of signature sauces and which customers can take home and finish themselves, or sit down at the long share table and enjoy with other likeminded food fanatics from the neighbourhood.

McCaig said he hoped Vicino Pastaria & Deli’s would be open as early as spring 2012 (three months from time of writing), but needed to overcome the standard City Hall hurdles such permits and licenses. But even with this exciting announcement, McCaig had more to share.

Although Nicli Antica Pizzeria enjoys steady traffic—let’s face it, some nights it’s difficult to get a table—they’re starting to offer a special “Industry Feature” to their neighbours working in the numerous restaurants in Gastown. From 10pm – midnight daily, anyone that works in the restaurant business can purchase an entire Pizza Margherita and a Draft Howe Sound Lager for $12.

“Having worked in a few kitchens,” explained McCaig, “I know what it’s like to finish a long shift, wishing for a decent option for a quick meal and a beer, and be faced with the fact that the only thing left open is mass produced, fast food.” And he’s right: Vancouver’s hospitality staff who bust their asses to make and serve our meals deserve a place to get a great beer and an amazing pizza after work—and that place is Nicli. Now that’s neighbourly of him! But don’t expect it to be sliced for you—Bill assures me that’s not going to happen. ;-)

As we often do with restaurateurs we respect and admire, we asked Bill McCaig to sit down for a chat and answer our barrage of questions (with nods to CreativeMornings and Scout Magazine for inspiration) so we could better get to know the man behind the restaurant:

  • How do you define creativity and apply it in your career? Creativity is taking the resources I have at hand and make something from them.
  • Where do you find your best creative inspiration? I find my best creative inspiration within my own family and I look to society to see if Vancouver needs what I need.
  • What’s the one creative piece of advice or tip you wish you’d known as a young person? Just do it. And I know I must have seen that pretty much everywhere.
  • Who would you like most to hear speak at a conference? Mario Batali
  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done? Opening a restaurant on East Cordova.
  • What did you learn from your most memorable creative failure? Don’t quit before completing the project.
  • What’s your one guilty creative indulgence? Ableton Live
  • What are you reading these days? Salted – it’s a book about the mineral how to use it and the history of its use.
  • What fact about you would surprise people? I used to live on a buffalo farm.
  • How does your life and career compare to what you envisioned for your future when you were a sixth grader? I wanted to be commercial pilot when I was younger. I would imagine my stress level is lower.
  • How would you describe what you do in a single sentence to a stranger? I opened Vancouver’s first authentic Napolitan pizzeria.
  • What’s the most recent thing you learned (big or small)? If you build it, they will come and I’m not talking about Nicli. I just went to a restaurant on Kingsway which opened with zero marketing or advertising and is already at capacity.
  • If you had a magic wand, where would you be in five years? Right here in Vancouver, I love it I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Oh wait: magic wand? I’ll take clear and sunny days please, it can rain while I sleep.
  • What keeps you awake at night? Tiramisu.
  • Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you? My maternal Grandfather, he built bridges in Southern Ontario, and followed the axiom do it right, do it once.
  • If you could interview anyone living or dead, but not a celebrity, who would it be and why? Arturo Nicli, he died before I got to know him as an adult.
  • If you could do anything now, what would you do? Fly a glider.
  • Where was the last place you travelled? Italy: Alison and I got married there and travelled around experiencing the food, sights and sounds.
  • What was the best surprise you’ve experienced so far in life? The success of Nicli Antica Pizzeria has been wonderful.
  • Where is your favourite place to escape? The Sunshine Coast, far enough away to disconnect, close enough to be there by lunch.
  • What was the best advice you were ever given? Quality sells itself / build a better mousetrap.
  • What practices, rituals or habits contribute to your creative work? Meditation and dining out.
  • When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck? Lose myself in another activity: walking, dishes, breathing.
  • If you had fifteen extra minutes each day, what would you do with them? Stop and enjoy life.
  • What has been one of your biggest Ah ha! moments in life? Everything is unfolding exactly when and how it should.
  • What are three things about Gastown that make you want to live there? L’Abbatoir, the local colour, my apartment.
  • What are three things that Gastown doesn’t have but should? 1) Top notch pasta, 2) a farmers market – dairy, meat & fish, produce and dry goods, 3) a boutique wine store
  • Name the thing that you eat that is bad for you that you will never stop eating? Fat: It’s a flavour delivery vehicle.
  • Default drink/cocktail of choice? Bourbon Sour
  • Where is your favourite local patio? Chill Winston.
  • The dumbest thing that you’ve ever done to your hair? Sun In.
  • What are the three things you’d like to change about Vancouver? 1) The flashing green traffic light: as it is, it does nothing; use it as an advance green to get the people turning left around the corner. Extend the green but cut the walk signal back, so the people turning right can get around the corner.  2) Eliminate all 4 way stops and make them roundabouts. 3) Jaywalkers: realize you are taking your life in your hands and conduct yourself accordingly.
  • Is there a local bartender who could sell you anything? Shawn Layton of l’Abbatoir
  • Your go to, no-frills place for dinner? La Taqueria.
  • If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you? Buenos Aires.
  • The strangest place you’ve ever been to? Egypt.
  • Your ancestry? Scottish-Italian
  • Your three favourite films? There Will Be Blood, Kalifornia, Grindhouse
  • Television show that you could tolerate re-runs of? The Jetsons, at least I used to.
  • Under what circumstances would you join the army? To make sure they were well fed.
  • How do you know when you can trust someone? You can see it in their eyes.
  • What musical instrument do you secretly long to play? Bass guitar
  • Have you ever fired a gun? Yes, long guns only. Scariest situation: outrunning a mama buffalo.
  • The one place that you have the least interest in ever visiting? Antarctica.

Nicli Antica Pizzeria is open daily from 11:30am to Midnight and is located at 62 E Cordova St in Gastown, Vancouver (GoogleMap), BC. 604-669-6985 (no reservations) niclipizzeria.ca Twitter @NicliPizzeria

Who do you think we should interview next? Email your suggestions to info@foodists.ca.

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