For That’s What I Like! Island Grill Owner Roy Nicol, there is a clear thread traceable all the way back to his childhood that has led him to where he is today.
Woven throughout his life, Roy’s passions for his family, food, and music, have all culminated to form the restaurant he runs today with his wife and head chef, Lorna.
“I was raised in a restaurant,” Roy says. “My mother was a career waitress and she used to bring me to work with her when I was too young to stay at home. I used to sit in the lounge and play Pac-Man.”
As he grew up, Roy found his way to music, becoming a successful DJ and booking gigs everywhere from the radio to official Seattle Seahawks pre-game parties.
And while most stories these days seem to have been faltered by the pandemic, it was in 2020 when the Nicols decided it was actually the right time to act on their goal of opening a food truck.
After running a successful truck in Deming, the couple found another perfect opportunity to step into their own brick-and-mortar restaurant in August 2021.
From there it was a matter of deciding what the restaurant would serve. Pulling from Roy’s diverse background meant there was ample opportunity to serve anything from Filipino food to soul food or American comfort food. However, his family roots and love of music helped decide the path for the new establishment.
“My family’s pretty large and when we have big gatherings like weddings or anniversaries, all of my uncles or older cousins would cook and I would be the DJ,” Roy says. “So I’ve always seen how my family caters and everyone that always used to come to our events, even to this day, all saying, ‘You should open a restaurant, food truck or something.’ And we were lucky enough that this opportunity came along.”
With his decidedly Filipino-American restaurant, Roy sources countless staples including Filipino beer, spirits, drinks, and food staples such as lumpia, pancit, and adobo.
He added that, when people come in unsure about Filipino food, he encourages them to explore some of the different items offered, especially items considered staples in the Philippines.
“What we’re trying to do is familiarize our community,” Roy says. “We’re trying to do our best to make it simple, tasty, and welcoming for them.”
With those staples, the restaurant serves up some of the most delicious food in town. With items such as the Grilled Chicken Plate ($14.99) which comes with rice and tuna mac salad, the smokey depth to the protein brings one mouthwatering bite after the other.
If you are a fan of meat that falls off of the bone without any effort, the Chicken Adobo Plate ($14.50) will never disappoint. To hit the classics, a Lumpia Sampler Plate ($12.99) is an easy choice – and with two included dipping sauces – it will be hard to stop thinking about the crispy rolls once they are gone.
The fun at That’s What I Like! Island Grill doesn’t stop with the food. With the addition of karaoke on Wednesday nights and live music and open mics throughout the week, the restaurant easily feels like a place filled with fun and family.
There is evidence of the values that started Roy on his restaurant journey all over the restaurant. Murals of Lorna’s hometown in the Philippines line the walls along with family photos; the Nicols’ son, Andrew, can be found working in the kitchen or as manager; and menu items feature nods not only to a few of Roy’s favorite songs but his parents as well.
“They’ve been telling me that, ‘Roy, you’re crazy to open a restaurant in a pandemic,’” Roy says. “But my wife and I, we follow our heart. This is what we wanted to do, so we were hard set on it.”
3236 Northwest Ave., Bellingham, 360.778.2766, thatswhatilikeislandgrill.com