LA’s Nickel Diner closes after 15 years and ‘perfect storm’

“We always came from a place of inclusion as opposed to exclusion,” shares Monica May. “Living on this block, seeing who our community was, from high-end loft dwellers to the folks who live in the SRO housing next door to us, it was really important that we created this welcoming space.” Photo courtesy of Monica May.

The Nickel Diner opened its “Skid Row adjacent” location in Downtown LA at the height of the last recession. It quickly became a local institution, feeding business people, luxury loft dwellers, and their neighbors in single-room occupancy (SRO) units. Now after 15 years, the COVID pandemic, inflation, and an egg shortage, the restaurant is saying goodbye. 

“It's been a tremendous run,” shares Monica May, co-owner of the Nickel. “We've served our community and our community has supported us in so many ways. But right now, at the end of the day, it's just a little too hard. And there's just not enough margin to keep going.” 

Inflation and the avian flu hit the Nickel’s profit margins hard this year. “We went from normally paying $20 to $25 for a case of eggs, to in January, at the height of the avian flu scare, paying over $100 a case for eggs,” says May. “And for the community that we feed, we can only raise our prices so much. It doesn't behoove me to charge $20 for a plate of eggs, it's not who we are. So it's a little bit of a perfect storm.”

Monica May and Kris Tratner opened the Nickel Diner in 2008. Their last meal will be served this Sunday. Photo courtesy of Monica May.

During the height of the pandemic, they found a creative way to stay in business by feeding their neighbors in need. “We supplied 300 meals to the Union Rescue Mission on a weekly basis. We were feeding people in the SROs through the Skid Row Housing Trust. And we survived basically through subsidies, grants, and donations. But right now that money isn't as accessible as it once was,” says May. 

Serving the community was an eye-opening and rewarding experience for the two. It’ll be their focus moving forward as the Nickel closes and they pivot to a new business plan in the future.

“We started giving people warm meals who didn't have access to kitchens or didn't even know how to cook [during the height of the pandemic]. And we have a passion to continue that,” shares the Nickel Diner’s Kris Tratner. Photo courtesy of Monica May. 

“Ultimately we would like to hook up with Mayor Bass to show her an alternative way to feed the food insecure,” says May’s partner Kris Tratner. “That's our next project. And if we can get government subsidies to do this, it would be phenomenal.”

May adds, “Then the Nickel Diner will continue in another form.”