New owner gears up to reopen Chez Nous restaurant in Schenectady

The team behind the soon-to-be-reopened Chez Nous, from left, Ashley Nichols, Justin DeHart, William Nichols, and Pete Nichols, is shown in the Schenectady restaurant on Friday, June 3, 2022.
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The team behind the soon-to-be-reopened Chez Nous, from left, Ashley Nichols, Justin DeHart, William Nichols, and Pete Nichols, is shown in the Schenectady restaurant on Friday, June 3, 2022.

SCHENECTADY Three years after it shut down, Union Street restaurant Chez Nous is on its way to reopening with a new menu and new owner.

Another change: Most of the food won’t be French.

The new operator is retaining the French name because it has some recognition in the local dining scene.

The restaurant garnered praise for the quality of its food but its menu was expensive and it never built the volume of business needed to be successful. It operated only from December 2015 to February 2019, so it has now been closed longer than it was open.

Pete Nichols said his new iteration of Chez Nous will be more affordable and will be French mainly in the sense of the French cultural affinity for quality food and dining.

“We bring that whole countryside French thing but we’re not bringing it in with a $20 glass of wine,” he said.

Nichols is ready to go with a team that includes his children Ashley and William but he’s still awaiting some of his permits.

“We’re going to start with a soft opening with our lunch menu,” he said.

The main first-floor dining spaces in the circa-1875 building at 707 Union St. retain their bright elegance. Nichols plans to configure the upstairs rooms as smaller private dining spaces but hasn’t finalized the layout yet. He also wants to have outdoor dining in front.

Nichols, 58, most recently ran the dining operation at Eagle Crest Golf Course via Nichols Food Services, leaving after the golf course was sold to a new owner. Previously the Clifton Park native was a commercial chef at Glen Sanders, a pastry chef at Villa Italia, and owner/operator of Miss Tiffany’s Bake Shop in Glenville.

Making and presenting food is what he’s spent the last 40-plus years doing, starting with washing dishes in New Hampshire and then an apprenticeship under an iron-willed European chef in North Carolina.

The commercial kitchen was not a likely career choice, given that he was born without a left arm, but when he was hungry, broke and hadn’t found his way in life, it was the only opportunity that presented itself.

“I got in the back door dishwashing,” Nichols said. “Nobody else would give me a job doing anything else. I didn’t like dishwashing so I learned how to cook. People were nice, and I got money and food. What else do you want?”

It became much more than that in the decades that followed, a devotion to making and presenting good food.

“That’s where it started and this is where it bloomed,” he said. “It’s been a journey and it’s been a life. I live, sleep and breathe what I do. 

“Who grows their own bay leaves?” he said. “I can tell where my herbs came from, what I fed them.”

Nichols will try with Chez Nous to keep good food affordable and accessible.

“There’s really not a concept here,” he said, “you’re going to sit down at the table and I’m going to make you what you want.”

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