Nick Neuman has spent most of his adult life in the restaurant world, so it makes sense the 39-year-old Scottsdale resident set out to open his own hip spot. He owns EVO in the Old Town Scottsdale area, an eatery with late-night eats that opened this past April. The spot has been a haven among the bar and restaurant industry crowd because of its late hours, but its Italian menu set among a modern yet cozy setting is available for lunch every day, too. Read on to what drove Neuman to opening EVO, as well as to watch him talk about five of his favorite reasons for loving life in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
School. When I was in high school, I came to visit my aunt who lived in Tucson. I fell in love with Arizona and decided when I graduated high school to go to University of Arizona. I ended up transferring to Arizona State University and graduating with degrees in economics and political science. I was born in Virginia.
What has your professional life been like since college?
When I was at ASU, I was bartending at Houston’s in Scottsdale. After I graduated, I took a year off and traveled, before coming back and working for a mortgage bank as an account executive. I always moonlighted as a bartender.
In 2007, I quit bartending and the mortgage world to become a financial adviser. I did that for about five years, then bartended a little bit after that, then decided this is what I always wanted to do.
What’s your first memory of wanting to be in the restaurant industry?
It’s so funny, because growing up, my parents and I never went out to dinner. I grew up with my grandmother living in our household, so every day was a home-cooked meal.
When I got to college, I started eating out more. A friend of mine got me a job as a busser at a health spa in Tucson, and I enjoyed the whole service aspect of it and people enjoying themselves, relaxing, and having great conversation.
What motivated you to want to own your own restaurant?
I’m an entrepreneur at heart, even with my work as a mortgage broker and financial adviser. I’m not a nine-to-five kind of guy. I’m not very good at taking orders and don’t really enjoy the corporate world. I don’t want to be supervised by someone else.
What was it about this location that attracted you to it?
I had been looking for the right opportunity because I came in with very low capital to open a restaurant. This has been several places, and the owner was looking to move on, so it was a great deal. The opportunity was right.
I like the lay-out of the building with all the open windows and the light. The location is just a little bit off the beaten path but still on Goldwater Boulevard. I wanted to be a neighborhood/locals restaurant, and all the locals are on Goldwater.
Why did you want an Italian menu?
I always loved Italian food, but I didn’t like how heavy it is sometimes. I told the team I wanted a fresh, light Italian menu. I didn’t want it to be too bulky. I wanted people to be able to taste their food. I didn’t want people stuffed when they’re leaving here. I want people to enjoy their dinner and some cocktails and maybe go out for the night in a nice, comfortable setting.
There are a lot of Italian restaurants in town, but not all of them make their own fresh pasta. A lot of it is sauce-heavy. True Italian food is light, flavorful, fresh ingredients.
What’s your favorite dish on your menu?
Hands down, my favorite dish is probably our chili shrimp pasta topped with fresh mint. It’s the epitome of a light, simple dish that’s really good.
I also love our charcuterie board. The most popular on our menu is the EVO salad, something that came to fruition after we opened up. We have Brussels sprout leaves as a complement to our steak. One of the investors came in and was just ordering Brussels sprout leaves. Now we’re doing them with flash fried kale, a little goat cheese, pine nuts, pancetta, and a balsamic vinaigrette, and it’s by far our most popular item on the menu.
I’m really impressed with our chefs, because I hired them two or three weeks before we opened, with little direction from me other than what I wanted. I tasted our food the first time two days before we opened, and it was amazing.
What have been the biggest challenges since you’ve opened?
You never know when you’ll be busy. We could be slammed on a Tuesday night and dead on a Thursday night, and it’s hard to figure out why.
A challenge is making sure my staff is motivated and excited and always on top of their game, which is hard to do in a new restaurant where things are constantly changing. I’m constantly tweaking our menu and constantly introducing new things. Staff is one of the most important things about your restaurant. If they’re happy and excited about where they work, they’re going to project that onto their tables. I don’t want my servers to simply be order takers.
Even though I’ve been in the restaurant business so long, you never know how many things cost money that you’d never even think about. Other than that, it’s been a pretty fun, exciting experience.
Why did you decide to stay open late until 1:30 a.m.?
It had a lot to do with location. Also, I’m a late eater. It’s not I want to have dinner at midnight, but if I want to eat at 9 or 10 o’clock, I’ll spend an hour or two relaxing and enjoying the company. I would feel bad if I would go to dinner somewhere, and they close at 10 o’clock, and it’s 9:45. Then the servers are waiting for you to leave, and I don’t like that feeling. Here, people can enjoy themselves and take their time.
Also, there are a lot of servers and bartenders in the area who are getting off work at 10 or 11 o’clock, and there are very few quality options to eat at and relax. We’ve been there for the local restaurant industry people.
What are your goals?
My primary goal is to make sure EVO does well, people like EVO, and EVO grows and lasts a long time. I definitely have multiple concepts I want to introduce to Arizona and beyond. It’s my goal to bring fresh, new restaurant ideas with the same energy we have here.
Where did the name EVO come from?
It literally just came to me – I know that sounds strange. I think a name is vital, and I was going through different Italian translations and all sorts of different Italian names, and nothing really caught on. Somewhere in the three or four days I was doing this, the name just came about. I wanted it to be short and simple and something people could pronounce. I love the idea everyone sort of has their own meaning for it.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to be a restaurant owner themselves?
Understand it is a true commitment. It is not an eight-hour-a-day job. Prior to opening, I would sometimes spend 20-hour days here. Just the time and energy you have to devote is overwhelming. You have to have it in your heart and be excited about it. If you expect to just come in and make money, that’s not the case. Be ready to not sleep.
Where does your entrepreneurial spirit come from, and what are the benefits and challenges of being an entrepreneur?
I didn’t get it from my parents, and I think things skip a generation. Both my parents were incredibly hard workers, nine-to-five. My grandfather was very entrepreneurial with many different companies, so maybe it was hearing about his life that intrigued me.
The biggest challenge is you have to believe in yourself and that what you’re doing is right. You have to be comfortable knowing you don’t know where your paycheck is coming from. You have to make it happen, because you can’t count on someone giving you a check every two weeks. You have to literally fight for it.
The benefits are overwhelming. Right now I’m not really seeing them because I’m working so hard, but I like being in business because of a choice I made. I have a 2-year-old son, which is the most amazing thing in the world, and this is like my second son I get to watch grow. Eventually, I hope the benefit is I have a lot more time to spend with my son down the road.
What’s your favorite local restaurant?
Citizen Public House. I really think they do everything right there.
My wife’s and my favorite date night restaurant is Uncle Sal’s. The bartenders are outstanding, and it’s a fun place.
If I have the money for it, I also love anything Mastro’s.