NEWBURYPORT – William R. Nichelmann, a native of California who settled in Newburyport and helped set up The Grog restaurant, recently died of complications from cancer at the age of 45.
Nichelmann, who grew up in the Sacramento area, said he wanted to see a new region and culture, so in 1999 he took a ride with a fellow San Diego State University student – who was from Newburyport – and came to the area .
Nichelmann had taken cooking classes at San Diego State and used those skills at The Grog. He did numerous jobs at The Grog and rose to prominence at the legendary Middle Street restaurant.
“Bill has always enjoyed working with food,” says his mother, Karen Anderson. “As a teenager he helped me in the family kitchen. I think he found his place in the grog. It was a busy restaurant and he had a strong work ethic. It was a good game. “
In 2006, Bill married Nicole Simkins, the daughter of Richard Simkins, the owner of The Grog, and Pat Simkins, a designer. Both have since passed away.
Bill Nichelmann worked his way up to manager of The Grog and was a popular administrator. This year, The Grog, now owned by Bill and Nicole Nichelmann, celebrated its 50th anniversary.
“Bill was a great manager, a very authentic person,” said Krista Brassard, a longtime bartender at the popular venue. “He took care of the staff and was able to take care of everything to do with the restaurant.”
Employees say the versatile Nichelmann could develop menus, seat diners, and if a coffee maker needed to be fixed he would.
Brassard said, “For many employees he was the patriarch of the Grog family.”
Former grog owner Richard Simkins died in 2014. He has been a force in the Newburyport commercial community since the restaurant opened in 1971.
Nichelmann’s role changed at this time and he became more active in the community. He was a member of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry and promoted the restaurant through special events and public attention, but kept in close touch with day-to-day business.
“Bill and I were very close,” says Peter Cormier, who was appointed General Manager in 2015. “We consulted on all aspects of the restaurant. He was regularly active.
“He trusted me to run the shop and he was a liaison with the community,” said Cormier.
Chris Lafaro, Floor Manager who has been with The Grog for 12 years, said of Nichelmann: “He was the best person I have ever worked for. He listened to what the employees said and was interested in everyone. “
Cheryl Brown, who has been a grog bartender for nine years, said, “He was more than a good boss. He was like a friend or a member of the family. He would always say hello. He asked by name for my children, Esther and Joel. “
Nichelmann’s death came as a shock to employees and customers who knew him. About two weeks ago, he expressed concern about fatigue and shoulder pain, went to a local hospital, and was then transferred to Boston for medical care.
“That was difficult,” said Patrick O’Neill, a chef at The Grog. “Bill and I have both been at the grog for about 20 years. He was here regularly for 20 years until he suddenly fell ill. He and Richard drove The Grog for 50 years. That is difficult for the entire staff. “
Bill Nichelmann was born in San Francisco to Karen Anderson of El Dorado Hills, California and William Nichelmann of Citrus Heights, California.
In addition to his parents, he leaves behind his wife Nicole Nichelmann from Byfield and four siblings: Brian Nichelmann from Carmichael, California; Brad Nichelmann of Sacramento; Lindsey Harn, San Luis Obisbo, California; and Kari Harn from Sacramento.
There are currently no funeral provisions.
Family members said there will be a celebration of life in the grog this fall.