BY GABE HERMAN | The Chelsea restaurant Motel Morris is family-owned and focuses on offering the same neighborhood feel as a nearby café that’s owned by the same people.
The eatery is at Seventh Avenue and West 18 Street, and offers American food with slightly elevated versions of classic dishes, according to co-owner Sam Nidel.
Nidel opened the restaurant in 2016, along with his brother and sister-in-law. They all live upstairs in the same building, as do other family members, and cousins designed the restaurant. This family spirit led to the idea to give the place a family name, after Morris, one of Sam’s grandfathers.
In 2009, Sam opened a small café on the High Line, and was the first place to sell food and beverages there. He worked there in the winter and at Pier 45 at Christopher Street during the summer.
In 2011, rents at the park went up and that led to opening a coffee shop, The Commons Chelsea, which is just a few doors down on Seventh Ave. from where Motel Morris is now.
Nidel said of the Chelsea area, “We knew it needed a coffee shop. And then in 2015, we knew it needed a restaurant.”
The idea was to open a neighborhood restaurant, which meant not just good food but good service and a friendly environment. “A place that was more upscale but not too high end,” he said.
“Our goal is to build a neighborhood restaurant that’s approachable and accessible to people,” Nidel said. That includes serving good food and cocktails. “We feel we’ve done that, and know we want to work to maintain that level of consistency we’ve gotten so far.”
The owners wanted the restaurant to serve new American food, said Nidel, including a little bit of everything. He said that consistency and reliability are key. “I think that’s so important to a neighborhood place,” he said.
The menu, from executive chef Bill McDaniel, includes entrees like grilled marinated skirt steak, grilled Idaho brook trout, and oven roast chicken, which Nidel said is a favorite of his. Daily specials include baby back ribs, lobster pot pie, housemade pasta and buttermilk fried chicken.
Nidel credits a great team and staff for the restaurant’s success, and said it makes a difference when there’s a happy workplace. “I think it permeates throughout the restaurant,” he said.
There have been some challenges in running a restaurant, Nidel said. People have stolen items from the bathroom, which is decorated with interesting items like posters and tchotchkes and a pink flamingo plunger. “We didn’t think people would have the nerve,” he said, and added that items have since been removed or fixed in place so they can’t be taken.
There is also the occasional difficult person to deal with, which comes with being in the customer service industry. But are also good things like a person randomly leaving a big tip. And funny moments like people coming with a suitcase, thinking from the name that the place is an actual motel.
“You definitely get to see the best of people and the worst of people,” Nidel said. He added that they have a good team, and “whatever comes our way we seem to be able to figure out.”
The family feel of Motel Morris extends beyond the vibes to the art inside, which was curated by Nidel’s sister-in-law and includes a wall of family photos, including Grandpa Morris and Grandma Sylvia.
The two businesses on the block have also been a good way to meet neighbors in the area, Nidel said. “It is a nice neighborhood, we’ve gotten to know a lot of local businesses in the area,” he said. “I feel like a lot of people in the neighborhood are an extension of my own family.”
More information on Motel Morris can be found at motelmorris.com.