Easy Bistro turns 10 years old; co-owner Erik Niel reflects

Authored By chloe.morrison

Easy Bistro & Bar has been open for 10 years this month, and the business and its owners have matured and evolved, co-owner and chef Erik Niel said. 

Niel said he’s overcome challenges, grown into himself as a businessman and chef, and seen his dreams both change and come to fruition.

“We opened Easy 10 years ago when downtown was a whole different dining scene,” he said. 

Originally, the idea was that their business would be more seasonal-busy in the summer and slower in the winter, he said.

But, over time, the owners realized that wasn’t their forte. They found they wanted to be consistent year-round. And they wanted to be locally driven. 

Old favorites 

The week of June 1-7, Easy Bistro will have a lineup of the restaurant’s old favorites from the original menu in 2005 to celebrate the 10-year anniversary. 

Menu items include:

  • Slow-braised beef brisket po-boy with housemade fries

  • Fried Gulf shrimp with housemade fries, fennel slaw and herbed buttermilk dipping sauce

  • Fried okra with dipping sauces

  • Orecchiette pasta with poached scallops, shrimp, lobster and saffron cream

  • Fried green tomatoes with bacon and pink-eyed pea vinaigrette

  • Gulf shrimp and creamy grits with tasso ham, fennel and sweet peppers

“The concept has morphed into a really local restaurant that focuses on the local food scene and caters to people who live in Chattanooga,” he said. “We absolutely love our visitors. We have regulars from out of town, but really, we are a restaurant that is focused on taking care of people who live here. That’s the biggest evolution.”

Any entrepreneur who has survived for 10 years has seen challenges, he said. 

And what Niel has found his biggest challenge to be has also been one of the most rewarding aspects of business-people. 

He said the Niels put emotional and financial support into their employees. But the people part is challenging because it takes the most effort, he said. 

The business currently has about 50 employees, who are all full time. 

“We don’t really have any part-time employees,” he said. “That’s one of the bigger changes.” 

He said there is definitely a time and place for part-time restaurant employees, but his team has focused on employing professional bartenders, managers, cooks and chefs, he said. 

And after 10 years, Niel said he’s more invigorated about the Chattanooga restaurant scene than he has been since he started.  

“I’m absolutely stoked about what’s going on in the restaurant scene now,” he said. “It really is at its breakout moment. It’s a burgeoning scene on a regional and national level.”

And he and Amanda have recently started the Scenic City Supper Club as a way to support the community they love. 

“[It’s] something we felt like we could do to help give back to the Chattanooga food scene and help bring it along at the same time,” he said. 

It’s something that he hopes fosters a sense of community and camaraderie.

“It’s not something we do to make money; it’s something we do for the love of the game,” he said. 

Finally, after 10 years, the couple feels like they have a handle on Easy, which Niel calls his “first restaurant child.” 

That “child” is now grown up enough that the couple can put a little more time into other babies-Main Street Meats, for example. The duo took over operations of the Southside business last year. 

“I very much look forward to [working at] Main Street Meats,” he said. “And we want to do more stuff in the future in Chattanooga.”